The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey just came out, and while I wouldn’t say the specifics matched exactly what I predicted, I can say that overall my impressions of the movie were largely what I was expecting.
Okay… but was it good?
I enjoyed myself watching this movie. To me, that’s the most important gauge. It was filled with humour and action – and a lot of walking, but we expected that – what would a Lord of the Rings prequel be without walking after all?
As expected, this movie is visually stunning. They were able to reuse a lot of assets from the Lord of the Rings movie, and we all know how gorgeous that was. This also helped to build that atmosphere I was hoping for. The ‘Middle Earth’ feeling. It was great to revisit Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth, even if it is a strange and wacky place – which I’ll touch on later. On the same note, the audio was incredible. The mix of reused pieces and new was perfect, and the new stuff was similar enough in tone that it still fit with the old. An impressive feat, and one I hope is continued throughout the Hobbit series.
I was very pleased with the performances of most of the actors. Quite a few of the returning actors really stepped up their game, most notably Sir Ian McKellan’s Gandalf was even better than I’ve ever seen. Aside from her random appearance, I was also impressed by Galadriel in here. As far as the new actors go, the majority of them also hit the mark. I was quite impressed by Ken Stott’s portrayal of Balin in particular. I felt that not only did he nail the character, but he also added a layer of depth that was not present within the books yet still fit. Unlike the Lord of the Rings movies, the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey definitely hit the right mix of direct quoting from the text and modern language. At no point did I feel any of the direct quoted lines were out-of-place, nor did any of the modern speak really feel awkward(see “Let’s Hunt Some Orc” from LotR if you want an example of this).
The Hobbit, as a book, was written as a children’s book – a lighthearted there and back again journey. The movie seems to be a bit confused as to whether it is a prequel to the Lord of the Rings movies, or whether it is an adaptation of that light-hearted novel. Certain parts of the movie show a deeply dark and disturbing side, such as the ‘character building’ for Azog during the flashback showing the attempt to retake Moria… while other parts seem to be trying to capture that more light-hearted aspect, such as the chase through the Misty Mountains. Despite well-meaning transitions that do help to limit the jarring impact, there is still a feeling of disconnect between these scenes. I have to say that the light-hearted side felt more appealing given the nature of the story, and overall was more entertaining to watch. Luckily the majority of the movie takes this tone, while the more dark side is only showcased in a selection of scenes. And because of this, it ends up being a truly fun movie to watch, most of the time.
So Where’s the Problem?
Well, the problem lies with the fact that I am an avid Lord of the Rings and Tolkien fan. I felt as if he didn’t consult his source material nearly enough for this movie.
Gandalf was a point of contention for me. While I absolutely loved his character, and the personality Sir Ian McKellan was able to build into it, but I found that the movies put way too much emphasis on making him into a superhero. While Gandalf was indeed an almost supernatural being, his power was not typically quite so flashy. The pinecones were a much more in-character representation of his power than many of the other aspects. On the subject of Wizards; however, how can I possibly ignore the butchering of Radagast? He was taken from an absentminded yet overall pretty down to earth character who just happened to be able to communicate and understand animals… and transformed into the near-psychotic animal lover we saw in this movie. While I thoroughly enjoyed the rabbit chase scene from a purely neutral point of view… the Tolkien fan died a little inside at that portrayal of a rather fascinating character. The other main character who really felt off for me was Thorin. I felt they tried too hard to make Thorin feel like a rogue-ish anti-hero at the start of the movie, that it really detracted from his overall interest – especially from the perspective of a Tolkien fan.
Liberties were also taken with the storyline as well, as would be expected. Certain liberties felt like they fit somewhat, such as the use of Azog as a ‘villain’. There had to be some logical reason for the Orcs to appear by coincidence at the specific places they did. On the other hand, the liberties taken with the Rivendell scene felt really, painfully out-of-place and out of character. For example, when first introduced, Elrond felt more like the Hobbit style Elrond… but then 30 seconds or so later in a different scene that took place that evening, he became what I like to call Agent Elrond, the kind of stiff, cold-feeling Elrond we all know and ‘love’ from the Lord of the Rings. Since Elves are generally a fairly unchanging people, it felt really jarring to watch his character transition so much so quickly. That was far from the only problem I had with those scenes, yet it was the one I could explain without spoilers too large for this review, so unfortunately you’ll have to watch the movie if you want to know why I found this scene jarring.
As a minor sidenote, I felt the addition of Frodo to the start of the movie to be unnecessary and out-of-place as well. The scene would’ve been slightly shorter and felt more logical if they had just had Bilbo writing in the book addressed TO Frodo, rather than having Frodo have a whole scene to himself.
As I said at the start, this movie wasn’t what I expected, yet it also was exactly what I expected. I didn’t expect specifics like the White Council or Azog… yet I definitely expected this movie to be a good movie that hurt the Tolkien Fan in my heart. I truly do feel this movie is deserving of all the praise it receives, as it is not a movie version of The Hobbit, it is a movie representation of Peter Jackson’s interpretation of The Hobbit. A totally different beast, and as such, shouldn’t be judged too harshly based off the Tolkien fan in my heart. And, while the movie wasn’t perfect if you ignore the deviations, it was a truly entertaining, if slightly confused, film to watch.