Being a sci-fi/fantasy nerd, I try to get to every midnight movie premiere that I can. Usually, I can make it in to work later that day. Not this time.
I went to the midnight showing of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and this is my review. As I mentioned in the excerpt, there will be spoilers ahead, so if you’re going to wait to go until later in the weekend, hit the “back” button on your browser now. It should also be noted that I realize that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was not really intended to be viewed in isolation; it is the first of three theatrical releases which were meant to be one big movie.
[Disclaimer/Confession mode=on]I am not serious movie critic. I don’t understand the technical aspects of movies. Nor do I like going to “serious” movies. While I understand and appreciate a film like Saving Private Ryan or No Country for Old Men, I go to a movie theater to be entertained. I have admittedly low expectations; what I want out of a movie consists of some combination of the following: cars turning into robots, magic/sorcery/the Force, lots of stuff blowing up, cleavage falling out of metal bikinis, orbital battle-stations, dragons burning down cities, and hot women running in slow motion. Sometimes, there is a nice confluence of a well-constructed film and an entertaining movie, but I usually prefer the latter.
I am also not a hardcore Tolkien fan. It’s been many, many years since I’ve read The Hobbit and I don’t think I’ve ever read The Lord of the Rings from cover to cover.1 Still, because I thought Peter Jackson did such a great job of bringing the Lord of the Rings movies to the screen in a way that would not only satisfy the fanboys/girls but also be accessible to the non-Tolkienite public, I have been looking forward to The Hobbit movies2 and how they would come to the screen.
So I’m going to break down The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey here in the good, the bad and the ugly style. I am not going to walk through the movie or recap the plot. I figure anyone going to a blog about an MMO based on Tolkien’s works probably knows how it’s supposed to go and how it ends.[/Disclaimer/Confession Mode]
I went to the non-3-D showing and I was disappointed no one was dressed up in costume.3
The star of the show is Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. His portrayal as the titular character is perfect. Freeman gives Bilbo the right combination of strength and vulnerability. He plays Bilbo as serious when he needs to be and can add a touch of levity to a scene when called to. I’m not saying he’s going to win Best Actor or anything, but after you see him as Bilbo, you’ll never think anyone could play the part as well as he.
Since Jackson is using the same production company and people who made the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the production values are as high as expected. The Hobbit captures the essential feel of Middle-Earth established by LOTR, which is to say that everything looks and acts consistently. There are also many (maybe too many) panoramic shots of the New Zealand countryside and mountains that reminded me of “The Lighting of the Beacons”, which is one of my favourite sequences from the LOTR movies.
Richard Armitage is also exceptionally good as Thorin, although he’s not as short and stocky as I think of drwarves.4 He spends a lot of time scowling, but has the right mix of rage, obstinance and hidden compassion of a dwarf.
Where LOTR had an ensemble cast, with each of the members of the Fellowship of the Ring having their own plot line and character development, the Company of Thorin Oakenshield essentially has three characters: Bilbo, Thorin and Gandalf. The other 11 dwarves exist either as brawn, plot exposition or comic relief. You’d think that in three hours, someone besides Balin could talk about something other than food or killing something.
There is a nice mix of live action and CGI, and the blending of the two is well-done. While some sequences are obviously all computer-generated (the fight/chase through Goblin-Town, for example), it doesn’t look cartoony or like it was done on the cheap.
The interaction between Bilbo and Gollum was handled better than I expected, and it’s a tribute to the performance of Andy Serkis and the technical proficiency of WETA that once your suspend your disbelief, you can actually believe that they’re together in the cave sharing riddles.
A Quick Public Service Announcement
Right before the movie started, three boys came in and took the seats directly in front of me. They appeared to be about 17 years-old5, and based on their post-movie conversation during the end credits, they were stereotypical (in the negative way) nerds.
Two words for you and others like you: Soap. Deodorant.
If you ever want girls to talk to you other than when they need something off the top shelf, when they need to lift something heavy or when they are looking for a lab partner, get to know those two things. Learn them. Live them. Love them.
That is all.
This movie is long. There is no other way to put it. In our theater, the lights went down at 11:57 and after the obligatory previews/promotions/subliminal messages to go buy overpriced popcorn, the actual movie started at 12:20. The end credits finished rolling at 3:00 AM on the dot.6
Why The Hobbit needed to be 2 hours, 40 minutes is inexplicable. There is lots of lovely plot exposition about Erebor in the form of wonderful CGI battle scenes between dwarves and Smaug (whom we never see in his entirety), as well as a battle featuring Thorin and Azog, that could have been shorn down to about a quarter of the time. The Fellowship of the Ring, which encompasses the first book of the LOTR trilogy as well as part of The Two Towers (the book) fit nicely into three hours. And now they’re making The Hobbit, which I believe is shorter than the three LOTR books is going to be 3 movies?
There are two prevailing theories on this, both of which ring of truth. The first is that Peter Jackson got tired of being ripped apart on message boards for “You left out Tom Bombadil!!!!!” and such, so he said, “Take this nerds; here’s EVERYTHING from The Hobbit . . . plus some stuff that’s not even in the book!”
Radagast having a sled that’s pulled by rabbits!?!?!?! Really? Other things just feel forced, like Galadriel and Saruman together with Elrond and Gandalf. Or the 10 minute sequence at the beginning that seems to exist only to get Elijah Wood into the movie.
The other theory is that TPTB who financed the film said, “People loved Lord of the Rings, multiple-part movies are all the rage, let’s make two . . . no, three . . . movies out of this Toll-keen guy’s book and rake in the dough!”7
Put those two together and you get a three hour movie out of the first 100 pages of The Hobbit.
I read a joke on one of the movie review posts at CNN which said, “By the time all three Hobbit movies are released, they will be a total of 9 or 10 hours long. Middle school kids will read the book because it will be shorter.”8
Does it hurt the film? Yes and no. The purists will decry that the movie doesn’t follow the book (how many of them do?). But I also heard people leaving the theater excited to come back and see it again. Or wailing that they have to wait a year to see the second movie.
As a movie-goer, I will say that the length of the film makes it drag in parts. A lot of parts, in fact.
Look, if you’re reading this, you’ve either already seen it, or you’re going this weekend. I’ll probably be going again on Saturday because Mrs. Vraeden (who is a much bigger fan of Tolkien than I) doesn’t do midnight movies. Personally, I give The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as 7 out of 10,with high marks for the strong performances from Freeman and Armitage, as well as excellent production values, and downgrades for long, lumbering stretches that seem indulgent and make the movie drag.9
Once you’ve seen the movie, please let me know what you thought of it in the comments below.
- The reasons for this are varied and probably best left to be the subject for a later article at a later time. ↩
- Despite how a commenter here at CSTM attempted to portray me. ↩
- I only go in costume to Star Wars events, although I did have on my White Hand LOTRO t-shirt and The One Ring, which I got off eBay. ↩
- Too much D&D for me, probably. ↩
- What were they doing out on a school night? ↩
- By the way, there is no Marvel-style post-credits bonus scene. ↩
- This is what’s called a “money grab” for those of you keeping score at home. ↩
- I have no shame in stealing someone else’s joke. I don’t have a reference citation, but it’s not my joke. ↩
- As a point of reference, for me, a 1 means I will get up in the middle and leave, 5 is a perfectly acceptable movie that I don’t feel is a waste of my time, and a 10 says that I hid out in the theater to catch the next showing, or I’d pay full price to see it again after the ushers throw me out of the Cineplex. ↩