Review – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

It’s been a while since my last post, what with a new job, new house, and and the vague looming threat of an ultimately non-existent apocalypse, but I managed to tear myself away from my reinforced bunker and my stockpile of tinned goods in order to go see a film that I’ve been looking forward to for most of the year.

The_Hobbit-_An_Unexpected_Journey

Let me just get this out in the open. I love the  Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Absolutely love them. More than once, I’ve dedicated the better part of a day to a back-to-back marathon of the extended editions.

I hate the Lord of the Rings books, mostly because I simply cannot stand Tolkien’s style of writing. I could rant for ages on why, but I’ll summarise by just saying that the dude’s boring. The ideas presented in his books = awesome and evocative, and the foundations for all modern works of fantasy. The execution of his ideas in his own stories = oh fuck me sideways not another chapter about the ents. 

Out of all of Tolkien’s work, The Hobbit is the one I find the most tolerable, maybe because I read it at a young age and enjoyed it and therefore can don rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia. It’s the classic fantasy story; a protagonist who is unprepared and underestimated  – and therefore a character that the reader can easily relate to –  embarking on a quest with brave companions, encountering perils and wonders, growing and changing with experience, before an epic climax. How can you go wrong?

I won’t waste time recounting the specific story of The Hobbit. To be honest, I won’t even waste time describing the acting, or the visuals, or the soundtrack, because they’re all flawless. Every sweeping scenic shot of Thorin’s company is an enormous “LOOK, LOOK HOW BLOODY GORGEOUS NEW ZEALAND IS!” commercial. Every location, from the Shire to Rivendell to the goblin caves drips with evocative, painstaking detail. Every performance is great, especially from the main three actors, Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan and Richard Armitage. And the music is pure Howard Shore ear-candy.

What I was most interested in was the – how shall I put this – padding that went into Unexpected Journey. After all, The Hobbit is a short book, shorter than any one of the three books that make up the Rings trilogy (he says uncertainly), so how is The Hobbit going to have enough material for a film trilogy of own? Answer: FUCKLOADS OF AWESOME.

Yes, even more awesome than Rule 63 Aragorn and Boromir.
Yes, even more awesome than Rule 63 Aragorn and Boromir.

 

We get whole sequences dedicated to stuff that gets glossed over in the original book. We see the destruction that Smaug wreaks on  the dwarf city of Erebor. We see Thorin’s grandfather discover the Arkenstone, the impossibly valuable gem that ends up sending him a bit loopy. We get a huge flashback battle sequence where dwarves and orcs beat the shit out of each other, and we see how Thorin earned his name of Oakenshield. And best of all, we get Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), one of the Five Wizards, who alternates between being a raving derelict and a crazy-wizard-ninja-rabbit-sledge man and who’s off investigating the disturbances in the Mirkwood caused by the Necromancer, aka Sauron before he came a giant eye of fire and solid undying hatred. I remember reading those few lines in The Hobbit about the Necromancer (which essentially boiled down to Gandalf saying “yeah there’s some weird shit going on, gtg”) and wanting to know more. I hoping with every bone in my body that the Necromancer side-story gets expanded upon in the trilogy’s upcoming installments, because if there’s one thing I love, it’s exploring mysterious secondary plots.

Oh, what else? I liked the designs of each dwarf in the company; I was afraid that we were going to get thirteen identical drunken beardy guys bumbling around, but every dwarf is an individual, and some in particular (Fili and Kili in particular) are refreshingly different from the standard “short, angry guy with a big beard and a big axe” stereotype that’s come to be embedded in modern sword-and-sorcery fantasy.

Damn those are some sexy dwarfs.
Damn those are some sexy dwarfs.

I’ve read and seen a lot of complaints that the film is too long, but you know what? I have no problem with that. The film is long, yes, but I never found it to drag. I’ve seen plenty of films shorter than Unexpected Journey  which have felt much longer, due to unnecessary scenes or convoluted storylines or poor quality acting or visuals, and Unexpected Journey doesn’t have these problems.

So go! Go watch Unexpected Journey! I’d wager that even if you’re not a fan of Lord of the Rings, you’ll enjoy it, owing to the lighter, less GRIMDARK tone. Hell, even my girlfriend – a staunch fantasy atheist – enjoyed the film, though that may have been the Old Toby…

Oh, and Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! See you in 2013, hopefully with a new twist on the Nerdy Wordy…

Tzaph   

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