I read through Tolkien’s canon every Christmas. So I of course reread The Hobbit this year as well. And I have written about it several times before, so I’d rather say a couple of words about the new Hobbit film, “An unexpected Journey”, which I saw just before Christmas.
First: I enjoyed the film. And as one, well, let’s say, a bit over the average interested in Tolkien and his works, that’s probably a good thing. Obviously, the film’s creators had to make a choice: Should they follow the book, and make a story for children, or should they follow the success of The Lord of the Rings, and continue with an action packed medieval romance for grown-ups? Of course, they went for the latter, and that was probably a wise move, though lots of the comical points and pedagogical build-ups from the book have been lost in the process, and replaced with more scary stuff, like the coming of the Necromancer, and the terror of the orcs of Moria.
I was concerned the film would be too long or too short, to bite over too much, or take a tour too fast over the events, skipping important bits, or drown in special effects. But I really think the final product has been well done.
First, I like Bilbo. In Martin Freeman’s interpretation, he’s more down to earth than Frodo seemed in the sequels. He’s more like, well, like what I would suspect from a Hobbit. He’s anxious, nervous, stammering, stressing down with a nice cup of tea, or happy enjoying a good meal, but still fantastic brave when needed.
Of couse I enjoyed Ian McKellen as Gandalf. Not much more need to be said about that. From the first meeting with Bilbo, almost to the letter after the book. That’s just brilliant.
Then it’s Thorin. Making him a young dwarf, and building the character up as a lost heir in a row of old kings, though still worthy of honour from the older dwarves is a genius move. It makes his entrance to Bag End a lot more interesting, than just letting him fall over the doorstep in the pile of the rest of his company. The other dwarves are a mixed lot. Balin is excellent, just what I would expect. Dvalin a bit too warrior-barbarian to my taste, but all right, why not. The rest of the lot; funny in their ways. Only Bombur is a failure, though not by the actor. He’s doing his very best. But why do they always have to make comic relief from heavy people falling? That’s not funny!
I liked the troll scene. I liked Rivendell. I loved that they rolled in the discussion of the White Council. Of course, fleshing out the story with stuff from the other books was necessary to make the story long enough to span over three films, but I think this was a wise move. It gives the story deeper background, and ties it forward to the sequels.
The gruesome orcs are well performed, and make the film a bit darker. Azog is not dead. Okay, so they skipped a generation, and Azog is the main foe, and makes the threat from the orcs more personal and physical. That’s an allright move as well. And of course, I loved the riddle game with Gollum. It’s almost perfect.
The shooting is state of the art, probably using camera tech that is almost not invented yet. The music is of course great. Themes known from the sequel movies, majestic music for the majestic mountain scenery, men’s choirs, boys’ choirs, they are all perfect – of course. I specially liked the dwarves’ song at Bag End. It was even better than expected.
Now, what did I not like?
Poor, poor, Radagast the Brown. In this film, he has become just what Saruman describes him as in The Lord of the Rings; a fool, and again, just a bringer of comic relief to the audience. And that’s just sad. Making him less nervous and rather strong and bitter against the change of the forest would have made him much more interesting. With his fast santa-claus-like rabbit sleigh, he’s just a clown. A sad move.
That it wasn’t Bilbo that alarmed Gandalf and the dwarves about the goblins in the cave. Except for a small detail with the trolls, this is the first (in the book) time Bilbo actually makes himself useful. In this film, he is interrupted by the goblins while trying to sneak away from the company. Why this very change? We are rewarded with some hobbity heroics at the end of the show that makes up for this. Perhaps the film makers want to make a point of the span between the coward and the hero within Bilbo, but this misses absolutely background from the book. Bilbo might a careful, boring, predictable, and lazy Baggins, but he is is not a coward.
The goblin king. While probably using Alan Lee’s drawings again (though these usually are great), he just resembles a fat, cancer-leprosy-infested goalkeeper with short temper and bad jokes. That’s just terrible. And the goblin mines. They should be narrow and dark tunnels, not open airy clefts. And the platform-video-game-like escape, ending with a bumpy roller-coaster run down through the mountain. Sorry, that was just to make use of fancy 3D effects. Why not use those to make our stomachs roll, dangling from an eagle’s foot? That’s what I would like to see.
And speaking of effects. The film was shot in 48 fps, probably to make the 3D even more realistic. But this makes the film too real. It misses the blurry effect that gives us the film feeling, that makes us believe in the unbelievable. It should not be real, it’s fantasy. the first 20 minutes or so, I have the feeling, I’m in an outdoor theatre, with actors running about me in folk costumes. Like in a live museum. Not in Middle Earth. Luckily, after some time, that effect runs off, or at least, I stopped noticing. But I should have loved to see the movie in a cinema in 2D. Now, I have to wait for the DVD.
So: Was the movie worth seeing? Absolutely. Was it worth all the hype? Perhaps not.