The Hobbit :An Unexpected Journey – A review

Note: I did not see the movie in HFR or 3D. Unlike every other review of the Hobbit, there won’t be any talk of the new technologies.

Note 2: This review contains spoilers.

The first fantasy book I remember ever reading is The Hobbit. My parents had shelved their copy under the assumption that a small boy would one day want to read it. Considering the course my life has taken reading that book must be considered one of the formative experiences of my life. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a grander, more epic tale, but The Hobbit remained my favourite.

The Hobbit has elements to make a good movie. A strong core character, exciting action and one of the best villains ever put on paper. But it has more elements that won’t work. It doesn’t adhere to a classic act structure. Instead it has a series of episodes. They culminate in a strong climax, but the adventures don’t really grow. In fact during the most cinematic portions of the climax, the Battle of the Five Armies, the main character is unconscious and misses it. Bilbo may be a strong main character and Thorin gets some development, but the rest of the characters including the other 12 dwarfs and Gandalf are basically stock characters.

Thus, even after the success of LOTT, I observed the announcement and production of the films with a large measure of trepidation. More so when I heard that there would be three movies instead of one. The Hobbit would be an epic to rival LOTR despite never having enough source material. Additionally it is marketed as a prequel to LOTR. Tolkien had LOTR in mind when he wrote the Hobbit. He seeded ties between the two stories most notably Bilbo, Gandalf and the ring. But The Hobbit isn’t a true prequel.

Wow. That was a lot to say in order to reach the point. All my worry is for naught. The movie is excellent.

Let’s hit my fears. The length – the length is achieved is two ways. One they have allowed scenes to breathe. The early scenes in Bag End included the full diner party including two dwarfish songs. I cannot think of any scene abridged. Secondly, they added material relating to the Necromancer of Dol Goldur. This plot was hinted at in the book. It is the true beginning of the LOTR saga. Here that material is developed. Both work well. The pacing of the movie is uneven – slow at the beginning and packed at the end. But it is never boring. I loved the immersive qualities of the beginning and the time taken to achieve it.

That brings my to the second fear. Making it a prequel. Emphasizing the Necromancer certainly moves in that direction. But the material works. It makes the overall plot more complex and dark, but not too complex or dark. Really, my fears here are realized. But, I repeat, it works.

Stock characters – Beyond excellent work by Martin Freeman as Bilbo, Gandalf and Thorin are nicely developed by Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage. The rest of the dwarves are given the quirks they have in the novel and the length of the movie gives the actors time to bring them to life. Dwalin, Balin, Fili and Kili in particular have great moments and personality. Bifur, Bofur, Oin and Gloin also get a little time. Ori, Nori and Dori round out the group. They probably had bits too. I just need to watch it again. 🙂

Episodic structure – two ways. First they gave it a normal three act structure. The opening. Then the trolls, orcs and Rivendell are linked. Finally the third act from the entry into the Misty Mountains until the end is a giant series of linked action scenes. Next they emphasized the theme of home in each act to give a strong through line.

Ok fears done. What else does the movie do well?

It is fun. It is exciting. It is scary. It is funny. It is gorgeous. It is true to the book, but also cinematic.

It is pretty darn awesome.

Fun? It captures the thrill of the book. It has word games and riddles. Stone at sunlight and danger in the dark. There is magic and wonder.

Exciting and scary? More so than the books there is a constant feel of peril. The trolls are the most humorous, but even they are scary. The introduction of a head evil Orc works particularly well.

Funny? Quite. All the humour of the book is there. Additionally, there is humour in reactions and sight gags. The dwarfs are hilarious without losing their nobility. I’m not sure how that was achieved.

True and gorgeous. These elements are brought forward from Jackson’s work on LOTR.

And Gollum is great. As everyone expected.

I give this film a very positive rating. Huzzah.

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5 thoughts on “The Hobbit :An Unexpected Journey – A review

  1. Stef says:

    I had serious reservations about the film too, Todd. Also felt that some of the pacing was a bit off (the intro of the Mirkwood/Necromancer arc felt forced.) But for all that, I really, really liked it. Watched it in 3D and was grudgingly happy with it (I hate 3D). It seemed to emphasize depth of field rather than being gimmicky – very nice for all of the wide open spaces. Most important, I wish I had remembered this when Paul asked me if there were any movies I was NOT ebullient about! This was one. But it exceeded hopes.

  2. Suellen says:

    So I waited until last night to see it. It was also the very first movie I had ever seen in 3D. I didn’t know I was buying 3D – I thought I was buying VIP seats. But that’s an issue with me not reading the tickets thoroughly.

    I want to see this movie again as a ‘regular’ movie because I found the technology more of a distraction than a joy. That being said, the tweaks onm Gollum were absolutely brilliant. And the Necromancer scene with the smoke – well you could almost smell it!

    Given that this is more of a ‘children’s story,’ it was more light hearted and funnier than LOTR. That being said, the darkness was there. I had complete forgotten about the Necromancer of Dol Goldur! Now i have to re-read the book (hooray!) in order to pick up on the little plot lines that added to then entire LOTR universe.

    This leads me to what I enjoyed most about this movie. Even though the movie is long, it is long for a real purpose. Jackson is letting the entire story unfold in a gracious way instead of having to cherry pick the highlights.

    Martin Freeman has long been a favorite actor of mine. It started in the Office, grew in BBC’s Sherlock Holmes and this role has seriously nailed my appreciation for him. His delivery was far warmer than I expected Bilbo to be. I had always imagined Bilbo to be rather stuffy and morally ambiguous. Martin got the stuffiness but there is not moral ambiguity to his Bilbo. His Bilbo is more a hobbit who is maturing.

    Looking forward to the next one next Christmas!

    • Yay. Glad you liked it.

      Haven’t encountered anyone who hasn’t yet. Although I’ve heard similar accounts of the 3D.

      I watched the first episode of The Office during the break. I’d never seen it. Funny to see Freeman in that role.

  3. Dave says:

    Okay, I’ve now seen the movie… actually I saw it on Sunday and forgot too come back here… 😦

    My points mirror Stef’s a lot.

    1) Saw it in 3D… Still not impressed. Maybe my eyes don’t process 3D the right way (was never able to see those 3D art pictures either). Regardless, I don’t get anything out of it, other than the occasional shock of seeing something out of the corner of my eye.
    2) Pacing of the Mirkwood seemed off, I agree completely with that. I actually felt pulled out of the story for the most part of that. It was good and looking back I enjoyed it, but it just felt out of place.
    3) I’m going to add that the ending seemed off to me, that it seemed somewhat like a strange place to stop… maybe more so, that the ending came so quickly after a climax (no denouement). But I guess that’s exactly how FotR ended as well. Just seemed like there should a bit more there.

    That’s the negative, however, there was a ton of good and great stuff in that movie. I loved Martin Freeman (never seen the Office 😦 ). Golum was great. Loved the Dwarvish songs and the riddles.

    Definitely a movie I will want to see again. Definitely going to have to get a copy of the Hobbit to read.

    • The only movie I’ve ever seen where the 3D added was Hugo by Scorcese. But I’m used to it now so it doesn’t normally distract.

      I didn’t notice the same about the Radagast scenes. But I might just have been thrilled by the rabbit sled.

      And you’re certainly right about the ending. It allows a build to start again with the Beorns next movie. It did cap the major arc of this movie (Bilbo earning trust). But it barely existed as a breath after the action.

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