Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey (2012)

I saw The Hobbit! Well, The Hobbit Part One anyway. I saw it on Thursday and even took the day off work to see it. I've been a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings ever since I was a kid and I loved Peter Jackson's film trilogy of The Lord of the Rings. It was a book that many believed to be unfilmable until Jackson proved everyone wrong. I've been looking forward to the screen adaptation of The Hobbit for years and this is no exaggeration! And I loved this first film! It's fantastic! I'd read mixed reviews before going into the film. Some of the critical reviews had argued that it was slow-paced and too long, that it would only please Tolkien fans, and that the 48-frames-per-second-thing made the film look cheap and like a BBC mini-series. I was disappointed to read these criticisms and even I was beginning to have doubts about the quality of the film. I was a bit afraid when I found out that The Hobbit, which isn't a very long book by any means, would be made into three films. Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro was originally supposed to direct The Hobbit at one point (with Peter Jackson producing) and it was supposed to be a two-picture project. But then del Toro pulled out, Jackson stepped in, and an extra film was announced. I was afraid that these Hobbit films would be padded out to death; and even in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy some of the battle scenes went on for too long and became boring. To me a third film seemed like a cynical cash-in from a greedy Hollywood studio. Yet I still wasn't put off seeing the film despite my growing doubts. Boy, am I glad that I still saw this film!

I didn't find the film overly long at all. Even though the film is almost three hours long it really didn't feel like it. The time just flew by! Yes, the film gets off to a slow start but that wasn't a bad thing in my eyes. I loved that they actually devoted quite a bit of time to the Shire scenes. I think they spent exactly as long there as they needed to to introduce the characters, explain what their quest is, and give Bilbo the chance to decide he would quite like to go on a adventure after all. But after Bilbo leaves the Shire the pace really picks up and you get plenty of action. And as for the criticism that it will only appeal to Tolkien fans, well, I am a long-time fan of the book so of course I'm biased. And the most positive reviews I've read of the film have been from Tolkien fans. Yet I actually think that this film is likely to be more accessible to people who haven't read The Hobbit then the LOTR films were to people who had never read that book. The Hobbit is fast-paced and there's more humour than there was in the LOTR films. And as for the criticism that the 48 frame rate looks cheap and like a BBC production... well, I saw the film in 2D not 3D so I didn't see the 48 frames per second version. I saw it in the standard 24 frames. I can't comment on whether the film looks cheap or not in 3D then but I thought it looked fantastic in 2D. It's full of spectacle and looks great. Yes, some of the CGI is a bit ropey (I'll get on to that later) but overall the film is stunning.

The film doesn't start in the same way as the book. It begins with a prologue - narrated by Older Bilbo - where we learn the backstory of the Dwarves. We see their homeland in all its glory and then see how it was destroyed by Smaug. This prologue is awesome! We see Erebor, Young Thorin, and a brief glimpse of Smaug. We see Thranduil (Legolas's father) who is played by Lee Pace. We even get a glimpse of the Arkenstone which becomes important later on in the story. After this prologue we then get another scene that isn't featured in the book. We get a scene of Older Bilbo (played by Ian Holm) at the Shire as he writes The Hobbit. We then see him interacting with Frodo (played by Elijah Wood) as they're getting ready for the birthday party that we see at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. It's a lovely scene and it was even poignant to see how innocent Frodo still is. The scene then transitions to Younger Bilbo (now played by Martin Freeman) meeting Gandalf.

The film does take detours from the book. The book is focused purely on Bilbo and the Dwarves' quest but the film includes things that are mentioned in the appendices in LOTR. We see things that happen off-page in Tolkien's book like Gandalf's concerns about the Necromancer. These additions didn't bother me at all because they did actually happen in the background of Tolkien's book. Jackson hasn't made them up. And I bet if Jackson hadn't put these additions in there would have been critics moaning about Gandalf's absences never being explained! We also get a new enemy called Azog in this film. He's an Orc that killed Thorin's father at Khazud-Dum and is out to kill Thorin on a personal vendetta because Thorin chopped his arm off. I don't remember Azog but apparently his character is mentioned in the appendices and was killed off by Dain Ironfoot. I could take or leave this addition myself.

One aspect of the film that I really loved was that it definitely got the humour and the light-hearted tone right. The Bag End scenes are very funny. I especially loved Bilbo's horrified reaction at possibly being incinerated by a dragon and Bofur's response that a dragon is basically a furnace with wings : D And I LOVED that they kept the lines from the book about Bilbo hooting like an owl and that one of Bilbo's ancestors invented the game of golf. Oh and I loved that they kept Gandalf's "Good Morning" lines too; they were oh so brilliantly delivered by Ian McKellen.

There are so many things that I loved about The Hobbit. We even got songs! I laughed out loud when the Dwarves sang "Blunt the Knives" and the "Misty Mountains Cold" song is very haunting and powerful. It helps that Richard Armitage has a great baritone voice. Howard Shore's music is fantastic yet again. I loved all of the breathtaking location shots of New Zealand. I liked Gandalf explaining why he chose Bilbo for the quest by mentioning the exploits of Bilbo's ancestors. I thought that was a very nice touch. I especially loved the "Riddles in the Dark" scene. This has always been my favourite part of the book and it was my favourite part of the film. Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis were just brilliant and these scenes are funny, chilling and tense. It was wonderful to see old settings again - the Shire and Rivendell - and to see old characters return too. In addition to Frodo and Older Bilbo, we get Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond and even Saruman again. All of the actors get right back into character again and I loved their appearances.

The White Council
We do get a lot of new characters and actors in this film of course. Martin Freeman was excellent as Bilbo. Originally Freeman had to turn the role down because it clashed with filming Sherlock; but Jackson liked Freeman so much that he changed the dates of the production just to accommodate him. You can see why. Freeman gives a lovely, engaging performance. Even thought this film has a wider scope and isn't as focused on his character as the book is he still gives an excellent performance. He's funny and brings real heart to the role. He shines especially in the Bag End scenes, the Stone Trolls scene, and the Riddles in the Dark scenes. Richard Armitage is also outstanding as Thorin Oakenshield. When I first read that he'd been cast as Thorin I was quite surprised. I think Armitage is a great actor. I've loved him ever since I saw him as John Thornton in the BBC's North and South; but I thought the Bard's role would be a more obvious choice for him. But Armitage gives a superb performance. They tone down his good looks and he gives a real sense of nobility and gravitas. Thorin is obviously flawed but he still comes across as sympathetic and honourable. I loved Sylvester McCoy - a former Doctor! - as Radagast the Brown too. I really don't get that some critics have compared him to Jar Jar Binks. McCoy gives a delightful performance and is a ton of fun to watch! I really enjoyed his performance.

Bilbo Baggins

Thorin Oakenshield

Gandalf and Radagast the Brown

Then of course there are the other Dwarves. Balin gets quite a bit of screentime in this film which I was pleased about. Now people who haven't read Tolkien's book will know who he is when the Fellowship stumbles into his tomb in The Fellowship of the Ring. They might find that scene a lot more poignant. I also really enjoyed Dwalin, Ori, Bofur, Kili and Fili; especially Bofur and Kili. Bofur is played by James Nesbitt and he gets some great lines. Kili is played by Aidan Turner of Being Human fame and is the "sexy Dwarf". He also seems to be the Legolas of the group (because he's an archer) and he gets an especially badass moment. There's this scene where the Dwarves are crouched behind a rock hiding from a Warg. Thorin gives Kili a silent nod and this dude then stands up, turns 180 and bangs it in the throat with an arrow. Awesome! We didn't learn very much about the other Dwarves, which I suppose is a bit of a shame, but then again most of them aren't very well fleshed-out in Tolkien's book either. I'm looking forward to getting to know them better in the subsequent films and I'm sure they'll all have their moments. I'd especially like Bombur to get more screentime in the other films. He's used as comic relief in Tolkien's book but I don't think he got a single line in this film. I'd like Gloin to get some more screentime in the other films too since he's Gimli's father. I also can't wait to hear Benedict Cumberbatch's voice as Smaug and the Necromancer (aka Sauron) in the other films! We only see brief glimpses of Smaug and the Necromancer in this film.


Is The Hobbit a flaweless film? Is every scene exactly what I imagined in my head when I read the book? No and no. The Hobbit isn't perfect. I was a bit annoyed that the Dwarves called Khazud-Dum "Moria" in the film. No! They would NEVER use the Elvish word for it! Also some, but not all, of the CGI looks a bit ropey. I loved the eagles and I thought Gollum looked great but I wasn't that keen on the Wargs and the Orcs. In the LOTR films the Orcs were played by actors who were made up to look like Orcs. But in this film it seems they mostly used CGI. This was a mistake in my opinion because the Orcs looked great in the LOTR films. I wasn't very keen on the glimpse of the Necromancer that you see in the Dol Guldur scene either. The effect wasn't great and the scene was far too brightly lit. I'd have liked a much more sinister and darker-looking scene. Bilbo was a bit too eager and excited to leave the Shire too I thought. He leaves on his own and I'd have preferred it if Gandalf had gone back to fetch him like he does in the book. I could have also done without Bilbo being covered with Troll snot and Radagast the Brown having bird crap on his hair. No just... no.

These are only small complaints and my feelings on this film are mostly very, very positive. It was a great Christmas present! : ) It is absolutely fantastic fun, the actors are great and very well-cast, and it's just an extremely entertaining film. I've loved the book since childhood and I thought this film was brilliant. I know I will watch it again and again and it deserves a lot of awards. Ignore the negative reviews! Go see it for yourself and make up your own mind! An extra incentive if you're a Les Miserables fan is that you get to see the trailer for the upcoming film! I'm only disappointed that The Desolation of Smaug won't come out until this time next year and There and Back Again comes out - I think - in the summer of 2014. 


Anonymous said...

I LOVED it! I thought it was going to be way to long for 3 films and was going to drag, but it didn't at all (fingers crossed for the next 2 films). I really liked Radagast- "outrun my rabbits? I'd like to see them try!"- the Brown! He nicked the witch king's sword and escaped on a sled pulled by rabbits! RABBITS! How cool is that?
I liked the very last scene with Smaug too.
I didn't mind the orcs being CGId. The uruk-hai in LOTR were supposed to be a weird hybrid of super orc and man so it makes sense that they would look different to the LOTR orcs.

Padawan Tano said...

I loved the film too. One thing though you mentioned. It's been a while since I read the book so I could be wrong but I don't think Gandalf went back to fetch Bilbo. Bilbo woke up, found their note and ran after them to catch up without his hanky.

Hannah said...

Padawan - Really?! Well this is clearly a sign that I need to re-read the book! I think the last time I read it was in 2010 or 2011. I should re-read it and then we'll see which one of us is right ;)