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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012 film)

The first part of Peter Jackson's three-part film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's novel which is being shot in 3D.

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Concerning Hobbits...

  • Dec 21, 2012
In 2001, The Lord of the Rings kicked off what some say is the nerd takeover of Hollywood.  At that time the idea that you could turn J.R.R. Tolkein's books into films and have them be successful was pretty much a pipe dream.  Yet New Line Cinema bet on him anyway and it actually paid off.  The three films were incredibly successful, being some of the most influential of the decade and paving the way for more fantasy films to come.  Of course, there hasn't really been a fantasy movie quite as incredible as Lord of the Rings.  And after much squandering, The Hobbit is finally ready to hit theaters.  And while I will most certainly admit to liking the movie overall, it actually has a glaring problem or two that's just hard to get over.

To put things into perspective, Bilbo Baggins is telling the tale.  The Hobbit is a pretty simplistic story in and of itself.  The Dwarves have found themselves driven out of their home by the evil dragon Smaug.  As a result they have no place to go and decide that perhaps they should fight to get their home back.  That's the basic plot of what The Hobbit boils down to.  It is not, however, what the movie in and of itself is about.  In fact, the movie seems to happily forget about Smaug after the prologue.  Instead we find ourselves witnessing a story about a bunch of Dwarves who have issues with orcs who are pursuing them throughout.  Smaug is very much an after thought.  That, and the Hobbit does quite a bit to try and set things up for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Including bringing familiar faces to us as well as making certain allusions to Sauron and the like.  The moment when we see Gollum drop the ring is enough to bring shivers to the audience in and of itself. 

Which is one of The Hobbit's smallest problems.  The fact that were it not for Lord of the Rings you... probably wouldn't care about some of it so much.  That's not to say the story is bad, it's only to say that the film's strongest moment (that is the meeting with Bilbo and Gollum) only has any sort of significance if you're a fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  And if you're watching The Hobbit, chances are you enjoyed those movies.  The meeting here is easily some of the best and most tense the movie has to offer.  It's a great little thing to see in a lot of ways--and it doesn't just come off as fan service.  Although you do get more sense that Peter Jackson is trying to put more emphasis on being a prelude to The Lord of the Rings than telling any sort of story at hand.

It's a good thing that the elements that work with the hobbit work really well.  In particular, watching Bilbo Baggins grow throughout the journey is most appreciated.  We're ready for adventure.  Particularly because he's also a very charming character (albeit, it's a text book example of The Hero's Journey).  The film is also a wonder on the eyes.  So much so that you'll appreciate the set pieces and battles quite a bit.  But again, a lot of what you see in some parts, relies a lot more heavily on your fandom of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, than having nearly anything The Hobbit does stand on its own two feet.  It's almost as though Peter Jackson is trying to remind you, much of the time, why you loved him in the first place.  I hate to bring comparison to George Lucas's Star Wars prequels (though this is a great deal better than those) but this is part of what Lucas went for when making The Phantom Menance.  A lot of the film relied quite heavily on your love of Star Wars to sell it.  It's very similar here.  Bringing back familiar faces, artifacts and locales.  For fans of the LOTR trilogy this is all wonderful stuff. 

On the other hand, The Hobbit suffers from a few glaring things that's really hard to overlook.  The most obvious is the fact that the movie is just too damn long for its own good.  The Hobbit was (for Tolkein, at least) a really simple book.  It was also just one book.  A story this simple and one that lacks the complexity of the Lord of the Rings really doesn't call for three films.  Particularly because throughout we don't even see Smaug because it's much more focused on getting us to The Lord of the Rings rather than telling its own self-contained story.  Since we know that this is leading to that the focus seems to be more about making The Hobbit connect than anything else, while also trying to repeat that success.  Again, I hate to bring comparison to the Star Wars prequels, but this is part of the reason those movies didn't come across so well.  They weren't interested in telling a story so much as they were interested in getting us to the story we all admired in the first place. 

This sounds like I'm telling you The Hobbit is no good.  But that's not the case.  It is.  But the way it's done makes you question what the actual purpose of making the film was... and why it was so damn important to split it into three parts.  In particular, the book itself just wasn't that long to begin with.  It was also so simple that even splitting it into two movies isn't exactly the best idea here.  On the other hand, at least there would be a bit more sympathy in two movies.  But it isn't even that, so much as it is that I fear each movie being three hours long.  Regardless of what anyone says... there simply isn't enough story in The Hobbit as a book to sustain three moves that are each three hours long.  Peter Jackson is going to have to add A LOT to the Hobbit for that.  And I'm guessing if he does a lot of it will be filler that is there for nothing other than making sure the two trilogies connect with one another. 

But the length of the movie has other problems.  Some parts of it are just downright boring.  And others are just trying to pad out the length of the film.  Pacing is not exactly Peter Jackson's strong suit.  It wasn't with the original trilogy either.  But he had to make it bigger and epic somehow (The Fellowship of the Ring was a terribly boring albeit, VERY well made film).  The Hobbit just has some moments that are too boring.  They don't all last for long but it's still there.  At the very least we're given more comedy and moments to laugh and enjoy than we were in say... The Fellowship of the Ring.  Where as The Fellowship of the Ring was more backstory driven, The Hobbit is more free to jump right into things without having to make sure the audience is on board with everything that's happening.  But again, The Hobbit has to sneak in that sort of stuff anyway.  It just can't help but make allusions to a story we've already seen. 

At least most of it works with The Hobbit.  What probably works the least are the set piece battles that accompany them.  And this is perhaps the most glaring flaw.  If there was one thing Peter Jackson was VERY good about in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, it was building up some sort of tension in the battles.  That perhaps lives could be lost.  Or that the characters stood to lose SOMETHING.  Here, in what is most certainly an overpopulated film, there's never any real tension.  For Gandalf and Bilbo there's not much reason to be.  We already know they'll survive the journey, but the movie even seems to be afraid to put them in any real peril throughout.  This isn't something that really helps.  A cast of fifteen adventurers and at no point do they really get separated or find themselves at death's door.  Okay, let me rephrase, they DO find themselves at Death's door.  Multiple times.  But you never, at any point, get the sense they are ever in any real danger.  The Dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf come across giant rock golems, for instance... but even here--in a moment where the characters are literally helpless--we still never get the sense anything is ever at risk.  Do you remember when in the first Lord of the Rings when Gandalf stands off against Balrog?  Even if you don't remember, I can say four words that bring it to mind (YOU SHALL NOT PASS!).  Gandalf saves the Fellowship from what seems like certain doom, only to be dragged into the abyss with Balrog.  Granted Gandalf doesn't die... but the Fellowship loses a key member.  In fact, the movie ends with the fellowship being split up and having more problems than solutions.  There's a sense of worry the audience is able to feel.  You don't have to kill characters... you just have to be able to sell to me that THEY know they're in danger. 

The Hobbit simply doesn't have that.  There is perhaps one moment near the end of the film where Thorian confronts the head of the orcs. Aside from that many of The Hobbit's moments force you to realize that the set pieces are much more about being grand spectacle than adding to any sort of driving force (again, the rock golems really have no particular purpose).  It diminishes some of the love we could've had for some of these characters as a result.  There's even a moment where the characters literally ride a bridge down a chasm and NO ONE appears to be hurt or worried or troubled or anything.  They literally just walk away.  Again, not to bring comparison to Lucas's Star Wars prequels, but this sort of stuff is just really boring.  It's mesmerizing special effects but it doesn't do anything to make me care about the characters when you suddenly realize that if someone gets stabbed they'll just dust themselves off and continue on their merry way.  Simply put, The Hobbit is filled with mostly forgettable characters.  Great spectacle, sure, but not enough to get me to fear for the characters I'm watching on screen. And since there are so many of them I never felt compelled to.  Even if someone had died I'd probably have forgotten their name anyway; likewise, it's not as though you can spread out a lot of screen time and development among them all.  That still doesn't separate from the fact that none of them are in any real danger throughout the journey.

There's simply no real sense that they're in trouble.  And in the moments where it seems like they could be the film manages to conveniently do something to make sure that isn't the case.  In one scene Bilbo literally just ducks down while all the orcs walk by.  Granted the movie explains this before hand... but it's anti-climactic.  The movie makes up for it (a little) by making sure one does stick around to see him... and then you realize our character in question is Bilbo.  Since he has plot immunity in the sense of the story it's really nothing to fret over.  Again, I just never got the sense that I should be worried about anything which happens to the characters.  And because the story seemed to be that much more focused (in quite a few spots) on trying to make sure it ties to The Lord of the Rings the movie was mostly... well... there.  It's not bad.  And I actually liked it.  It was just hard to ignore those three particular things.  The movie is too long for such a simple story (and doesn't make up for it by sticking in character depth), it's constantly reminding you that this is leading up to The Lord of the Rings and the danger the characters find themselves in feels so artificial.

You get the sense that Peter Jackson is simply trying too hard sometimes.  It's as though he's saying, "Remember?  You all liked this stuff!" Without really grasping WHY we liked it.  Again, not to keep bringing comparisons to a certain prequel trilogy, but George Lucas kind of went into those Star Wars prequels with this same thing in mind and it didn't pay off.  It pays off a lot better in the Hobbit sure, but it never came across as though The Hobbit could stand on its own two legs.  It comes across more as Peter Jackson trying to reclaim his glory days.

That's not to say the Hobbit doesn't pay off, though.  It actually does.  It's still a good movie that's easy on the eyes.  Once you get past this idea that Peter Jackson is constantly saying, "Remember why you liked me?"  And once you get past the absurd length of the movie, it's really enjoyable.  The battle scenes are really well done.  Much of the dialog (read: All of the dialog) is REALLY well crafted.  And yes, you WILL be reminded of why you liked the original Lord of the Rings trilogy.  There are a LOT of good things about the Hobbit.  If you liked The Lord of the Rings you should definitely go and see this movie.  It might take a moment to get beyond some of those peculiar problems, but I promise that if you were a fan of the Lord of the Rings movies it isn't impossible to.

Remember, the other reason The Phantom Menance and the prequels failed was because they not only tried the fanservice route but also lacked good writing, acting, cinematography, set designs (that being, everything was in front of a green screen) and a coherent plot.  The Hobbit doesn't actually suffer from those issues at all.  The acting is brilliant, the dialog fully appropriate and the set designs are clever.  The cinematography has that feeling of epicness to it as well.  The Hobbit may have its issues that stick out like a sore thumb.... but the movie itself doesn't come with a big pile of them.  I was actually pleasantly surprised.  And while I pray to God that the next two movies aren't three hours long (and I doubt I'll get my wish) at the very least they could potentially be really good and wonderful... provided Jackson is willing to reach a little higher in terms of his characters and the danger they're placed in.  It's hard to see past some of the bigger issues.  They may be few but they're ENORMOUS, I feel. 

At the very least the trilogy gets off to a decent start.  Even if it's a little easy to feel like more could've been done beyond the spectacle to make it more satisfying.

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December 25, 2012
Merry Christmas, Sean! I will respond to your comment asap. I am trying to get over a cold and prep for tomorrow!
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review by . December 26, 2012
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Would somebody buy Peter Jackson Final Cut Pro? I am worried he doesn't have the readily accessible editing software that is the industry standard. That is the only rational explanation on how The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is being broken up into three different movies.       You may remember Jackson's last crack at the J.R.R. Tolkien books, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The series was near-perfect, and while the last movie had eight different endings his hard …
Quick Tip by . May 30, 2011
The logo
To steal a phrase from another classic trilogy that was ruined by horrid prequels and the corporate greed of the director (which seems altogether appropriate), "I have a bad feeling about this."         So, here is my brief overview on The Hobbit film adaptation (including important events leading up to the conception of the film):      1937 - John Ronald Reuel Tolkien's mythopoeic children's novel The Hobbit is published to widespread …
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
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I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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The Hobbit is an upcoming three-part film adaptation of the 1937 novel The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien and will serve as a prequel to The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, is directing the film and also serves as producer and co-writer.

The film will star Martin Freeman, known for playing Tim Canterbury in the BBC comedy series The Office, as Bilbo Baggins and Richard Armitage, known for playing Lucas North in the BBC drama series Spooks, as Thorin Oakenshield. Several actors from Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy will reprise their roles, including Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, and Orlando Bloom. Additionally, composer Howard Shore, who wrote the score for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, has confirmed his role in both parts of the film project.

The three parts, entitled The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Hobbit: There And Back Again, are being filmed back to back and are currently in production in New Zealand; principal photography began on 21 March 2011. They will be released on December 14, 2012,  2013 and 2014, respectively.
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