The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey REVIEW (beware of spoilers)

review

As Bilbo states, “Where to begin? Let’s see…Ah yes…”

I have been waiting since 2003 with a hope that someday Peter Jackson would direct The Hobbit. And nearly a decade after I saw The Return of the King in the theatre, I went back to see Middle-earth on the big screen. I had booked myself for three shows back to back yesterday, 14th December, 2012. It is now 2:30am, 15th December, 2012, and I have only just returned from the last show of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Let me cut to the chase. Was it worth it?

Oh – my – God, yes! Yes! Yes!

I have been a fan of Tolkien a long time now, and I admit I prefer The Silmarillion more than the happenings of the Third Age, but The Lord of the Rings did not disappoint in the least (even though they made Arwen ride with Frodo over the Bruinen instead of Glorfindel – but cinematic licenses can be forgiven – and back to the point then) and this movie – ah, man, this movie is just too deliciously spectacular for me to be disappointed in anyway. I am a lenient judge, but I am fair – undoubtedly. I think Peter Jackson’s depiction of The Lovely Bones was just ghastly. It tore the essence of the book completely – and I was left with a terrible after taste I could not even spit out! So I do object to bad work – but The Hobbit? Oh, my! Oh, gosh! It is just too good!

I am now going to get into some major spoilers – so if you have not seen the movie and do not wish to know what happens, please don’t read further.

Okay so now that you have been warned:

I saw the first show at 3:30pm. The crowd was sparse. Maybe 20 people in the theatre. Which is more disheartening  than shocking to me. I can probably attribute the lack of a turn out to the fact that the promotion of the movie here has been terrible. I was wondering from the lack of any advertisement in our newspapers whether or not the movie was going to be shown on 14th after all! It was that bad. The other explanation for the paucity of the turn-out would be that here, in India, Tolkien is not such a big deal. And people would rather not watch a part that did not have a proper ‘ending’. Whatever the reason, the second showing at 7pm had a more receptive crowd – er, all right, there were just a bunch of college kids ahead of me that hooted along with me at all the right places – Frodo’s entry, Gandalf’s, Galadriel’s, Gollum’s, for example. The 10:30pm crowd was just as bad as the afternoon show. But onward with the movie –

The movie begins with “dear Frodo” and I smiled. Ian Holm is back as the older Bilbo and he rocks the prologue. The tying up of The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings begins right here – and it is done so well! The make-up is spectacular. I was wondering how everyone who worked in the LotR a decade ago and who return in this movie which is supposed to be a prequel would look – especially since Hugo Weaving (Elrond Halfelven) is 52, Ian McKellen (Gandalf the Grey) is 73, Ian Holm (older Bilbo Baggins) is 82 and Christopher Lee (Saruman the White) is 90! A decade earlier they were – oh, do the math. But the makeup made them all look way younger. Quite a delight to watch them all!

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The entry of Frodo brings back wonderful memories and, ironically, it takes you into the future and yet fills you with the wonder of the present. The links between the LotR movies and this one is most prevalent in the scenes with the older Bilbo and Frodo. As the movie takes its own story the links can be noticed only to the crazy fan who has watched the LotR umpteen number of times. Thankfully, I am quite happy to be one of those crazy fans!

For instance, links of dialogues like “dwarf doors are invisible when closed” said by Gandalf – who, pauses and realizes that since he is seated amongst 13 dwarves it would be quite pertinent not to mention ‘even their masters cannot find them’. Or one of the trolls saying, “make him squeal”. Or Gandalf telling Thorin to not talk at all with the elves and let him do all the talking, just like he did with Pippin in the RotK.

Bilbo’s prologue takes us to Erebor. The Heart of the Mountain is shown – and it is unlike anything I pictured when I read about it, which doesn’t mean that it is bad. It just takes on a different image now in my mind. A quite beautiful one, if I might add.

Finding of the Arkenstone

Finding of the Arkenstone

Thror is resplendently shown – and we get to know Thrain, Thorin and Thranduil all in the flashback. Spectacular halls. Brilliant mines. Magnificent treasure. And the need that arises within Thror to hoard it all. Possessiveness and greed – which brings me to Smaug, the Magnificent! Yep, his arrival is shown. Very cleverly. Cleverly because we see a rain of fire, the sacking of the mountain halls, the near destruction of Dale, but not Smaug. A flash of a wing here, a swirl of the tail, a stride of the front legs there – but that is all that Peter Jackson gives us. Which is fair enough. We just have to wait for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug on 13th December, 2013, to see him in his entirety.

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The transition from the older Bilbo (Ian Holm) to the younger one (Martin Freeman) is well done. And we have Gandalf. Ian McKellen looks his age, but he carries the role with such élan that a few extra wrinkles can promptly get unnoticed. He is Sir Ian McKellen who was made to play Gandalf the Grey. His acting, comic style, a flair for dialogue rendering make him superlative by default.

Good morning

Good morning

Which brings me to the younger Bilbo – Martin Freeman. I have watched him in BBC’s Sherlock. He is all right there – here, he is just astounding! The role of Bilbo was made for this Free man! I think he has done a truly splendid job. The unsociable, very human Bilbo taking on the mantle of an intrepid adventurer who faces his own fears is amply brought to life by Martin.

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The dwarves are introduced well. There are 13 of them and there was no pressure to learn any of their names (well, I know them by rote, of course, but a non-fan of The Hobbit wouldn’t now, would he/she?) which is a good move on Jackson’s part. Each of them are easily identifiable as different from the other by makeup and prosthesis – and my favourite happens to be Balin, son of Fundin (whose tomb we later see in The Fellowship of the Ring, in Moria).

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The dinner scene is lively and just as I imagined! The dinner song was included! I thought it wouldn’t be – and then the way the dwarves cleaned up the plates and sang –

Chip the glasses and crack the plates!
Blunt the knives and bend the forks!
That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates—
Smash the bottles and burn the corks!

Was – was delightful.

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Thorin’s entry and his personality marks him the Aragorn of The Hobbit. His is a brooding personality completely befitting Thorin’s and he is devastatingly handsome, as are his nephews, Fili (Dean O’Gorman) and Kili (Aidan Turner). Balin, Dwalin, Fili, Kili and Bofur are given ample screen time. And rightly so, since Fili and Kili are the two most active Dwarves of Thorin’s company, and apart from Balin, and possibly Bombur, they appear more frequently as “individual” characters in Tolkien’s book than the rest of Thorin’s companions who are most often named only in “group” references to the entire company.

Fun moments of Bilbo fainting, Gandalf narrating the history of golf and the details of the contract Bilbo has to sign make for carefree laughter. In a film that deals with a book like The Hobbit has to tackle these moments and I am glad that we are shown this side of Middle-earth, too. Things get dark, of course, but sometimes, to get through the darkness we require our smiles and moments of fun – well brought out by Gandalf, Bilbo, Kili and Bofur.

The song The Misty Mountains retains two stanzas in the film.

Far over the Misty Mountains cold,
To dungeons deep and caverns old,
We must away, ere break of day,
To seek our pale enchanted gold (in the movie it is “long forgotten gold”).

The pines were roaring on the heights,
The wind was moaning in the night,
The fire was red, it flaming spread,
The trees like torches blazed with light.

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The cinematography and the story boarding are just amazing. As the last stanza strains, we see Bilbo debating with the idea of going on the adventure and then we are taken to the hearth filled with fire, leading to the chimney that is shooting red sparks in the sky that mingle with the white stars above. I don’t know why but the scene moved me terribly. It was sheer poetry in thought and image.

The landscapes used are mind-blowing. I couldn’t rightly say what is CGI and what is real – but whatever it was the places were enormously dramatic. But speaking of CGI I didn’t think getting a fully computerized Azog was worth the effort. It is a sparkling piece of animation, but I would rather have another wonderful creation like “Lurtz” who kills Boromir in the film adaptation of The Fellowship. I liked the fact that Jackson took the time to show the Battle of Azanulbizar in order to explain why Thorin is called Thorin Oakenshield.

The encounter with the trolls lags a bit with unnecessary action. The scene is altered here with the dwarves attacking and Gandalf not speaking to rescue the company.

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Radagast the Brown, quirky, devoted to the flora and fauna of Middle-earth, is brought to life by Sylvester McCoy. I think he did a fantastic job of being the quirky, brave, eccentric passionate lover of nature that Radagast is … I enjoyed his fight with the Witch King at Dol Guldur and him fleeing from Sauron who (probably turned into bats) and chased him through Mirkwood. I quite liked the rabbits from Rhosgobel, too. And yes, they are fast!

What is Peter Jackson’s own invention is the Morgul blade that Radagast manages to wrestle from the Witch King. But even that fits into the storyline – it is well-woven in. Also the fact that he gives an animal lover like me a chance to sigh with relief. Jackson allows the ponies to go ‘missing’ before the dwarves reach Rivendell. I didn’t want to see the ponies being taken by the goblins in Moria. So most of the licenses taken artistically are for the better in this movie! And I don’t care what the detractors share or write. This is what I feel.

Peter Jackson directs

Peter Jackson directs

Bret McKenzie makes a cameo again (by public demand – amazing that!) as Lindir in Rivendell. Elrond is dignified as ever. Though in the book his attitude is a little peculiar, that bizarre quality is given to Thranduil. Thankfully. The scene where the moon letters are read is spectacular!

Galadriel, Saruman, Elrond and Gandalf have the meeting of the White Councl. Círdan the Shipwright (who had borne Narya, the Ring of Fire before handing it on to Gandalf), Glorfindel and Radagast the Brown are not shown in the film. Cate Blanchett is a goddess!

Galadriel under the Moon

Galadriel under the Moon

It is here that Gandalf says the most poignant dialogue in the whole movie about how it is not great power that changes the world but small acts of kindness and love.

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The fighting between the stone giants is grandiose but it could have been shortened.

Stone giants

Stone giants

Then we come to talking of Goblin town. Humphries plays the Great Goblin and he reminds me of Jaba the Hutt and I am glad that he gets disemboweled by Gandalf. Apart from tricky action sequences what is essential and really worthwhile to note the scene with Gollum and Bilbo.

If it loses, we eats it whole!

If it loses, we eats it whole!

The scene between the two is electrifying. Andy Serkis as Gollum has surpassed himself yet again! The execution of the Riddles in the Dark is amazing. I fall short of words now (partly because I am so damn sleepy – but mostly because I really don’t have the words). The whole movie rests upon this by-play between the two Ringbearers! The scene is lit with chemistry and great acting! And the finding of the Ring of Power heightens the entire situation to electrifying levels. It is diffused only between what I know now to be my favourite scene of the movie after deep consideration. The point where Bilbo has a choice – to kill Gollum or to spare him. “The pity of Bilbo will rule the fate of many.” The surrealism of that scene is tackled beautifully.

I cannot wait for the DVD to be released so that I can see the scene and the expressions all over again – three times was too less! The best part is that the extended version will have 25 more minutes of film AND it will mostly be released in May 2013. Just in time for my birthday! 😀

The final scenes have Azog returning – I wonder why they kept him alive – the wolves had to do all the work anyway just like in the book. Ah, I guess it is because they have to make Thorin appear lordly and powerful. The trees are climbed and everything is followed through and finally the eagles!

The movie ends with a thrush and the awakening of Smaug – the look of the dragon’s head, graphically, was not pleasing, it looked unreal. The main focus being the Eye – which is another linker to the LotR. Symbolism is all very fine, but I will do a Thror here and say I want to see Smaug the GOLDen! I hope they rectify this within a year before they show him in full, golden scales and all!

How was the movie for me? I would rate it 10 stars out of 5 and suffice it to say, I am booking another ticket soon!

Update: 18th December, 2012: I did finally watch it in the HFR version and I loved the feel of the movie. Blog entry that details my feelings on HFR is here.

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One response to “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey REVIEW (beware of spoilers)

  1. Pingback: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 48fps (HFR) | The Hobbit Films

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