Sunday, December 16, 2012

Now in Theaters: An Unexpected Journey

Film: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Director: Peter Jackson
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Image via

Regular visitors already know that I've been looking forward to this movie for quite a long time.  I've been a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth since my own childhood and have spent the past year and change getting my daughter up to speed in preparation for Peter Jackson's film.  Our visit to the cinema this weekend felt almost like a pilgrimage.

The film is truly amazing.  Giving it a 5 was tempting but I'm still chewing over a few things.  To be fair, there are going to be


in this reflection if you're planning to see the movie but haven't yet.  We have much to discuss.  Best to get cracking...

Let's start with the positives.  The film is visually stunning.  New Zealand is as breathtaking as ever and Jackson's CGI world building is just as impressive.  (Side note: too many bridges without guardrails in Middle Earth - don't think I could handle it myself)  Early reviewers have criticized the technical aspects of filming - something about the film frame rate - but it certainly didn't bother me.  Overall, the storytelling is highly engaging. 

The music is surprisingly good.  I really enjoyed the song the Dwarves sang around the fire at Bag End: "Misty Mountains." 

I was also pleasantly surprised that Neil Finn (of Crowded House fame) performed the song for the end credits: "Song of the Lonely Mountain."

Gollum is far and away my favorite Tolkien character and the "Riddles in the Dark" chapter is handled masterfully.  Gollum is tragic, terrifying and comical all at once.  Andy Serkis's performance is, as ever, the highlight of the entire film.  I was slightly bothered, however, that the resolution of the "Time" riddle differs slightly from the book.  It still works but Tolkien's way was better. 

I felt the story as told in the film is surprisingly dark - not necessarily a bad thing, mind you.  I think of The Hobbit as being a relatively light-hearted romp compared to The Lord of the Rings but this new movie definitely had a heavy feel.  For the record, My Wife didn't agree with my assessment.  She agreed it was dark but no more so than the later story.

Where the film troubles me is the extra material.  Jackson's film goes far beyond Tolkien's original text.  The story of Radagast the Brown is greatly expanded and we are offered more glimpses of Gandalf's doings when he is away from the Dwarves and Bilbo.  The film provides a fairly thorough back story for Thorin as well.  I simply haven't worked out how I feel about the changes. Part of me is excited for the expansion.  Another part of me, though, is reflexively nervous when filmmakers take liberties with well-beloved source material.  Nothing the screenwriters have added contradicts Tolkien.  Indeed, the author might have approved whole-heartedly.  But one can never know for sure.

On the positive side, this is just the sort of pondering that will lead me to watch the film again and again - probably accompanied by further study of the book, too.  I have no doubt that Peter Jackson loves the original story as much as anyone.  He is a worthy vessel to carry the story forward.

Our Girl was very disappointed when the final credits rolled.  "That's not how it ends!" she yelled, indignant.  I thought we'd adequately explained about the three-installment plan but evidently not.  She did enjoy the film, though.  Now, we'll all look forward to December 2013.


  1. I liked the extras. It was a little slow, but otherwise a great film. My review posts tomorrow.

    1. I knew going in that some had taken issue with the pace of the film. I didn't have a problem with that. In fact, I would say it was appropriately Tolkien-esque. I do believe that any story worth telling well is worth telling slowly.

      Thanks for your comment, Alex! I look forward to your review tomorrow.

  2. "That's not how it ends!"


    1. She was really upset! On the one hand, I sympathized with her disappointment. On the other hand, I was tremendously proud of her for a) making it through such a long and at times slow film and still wanting more and b) being so devoted to the story.

  3. 'Gollum is tragic, terrifying and comical all at once.'

    Gollum, as depicted in Jackson's original adaptations, was the most difficult character for me to endure. I find it surprising/intriguing/noteworthy that he is your favorite. I can readily agree with tragic and terrifying. The comical I guess I'm too sensitive to repellant, morbid absurdity to appreciate in the other three films. Perhaps in this one, there is an entirely other dimension I am missing not having seen this, yet.

    I am also surprised you didn't mention Martin Freeman at all! I must confess, though, that not feeling the slightest desire to revisit any of the other three with the exception of 'The Two Towers,' I will probably have to be propelled to the cinema by someone with a more pressing need to view this film -- now that I know that you, as devoted a fan as any I have encountered, were parsimonious with that final star. :)

    1. Suze, you haven't read the books, have you?!!!

      I love Gollum. I'll give him his due when I do my "Two Towers" review (we're in the 150s at the moment, so it'll be a while). Suffice to say, I find him deliciously complex. He's horrible, yet you pity him. He's a monster, probably best to just do away with him - yet you need him. He's the cautionary tale right in front of you and yet you have no choice but to trust him.

      And yes, in this movie he does provide a bit of comic relief. "Riddles in the Dark" is, to me, the best chapter in the entire saga.

    2. 'Suze, you haven't read the books, have you?!!!'

      *Sheepish laugh.*

      Am currently reading a novel by Connie Willis for my next 12 books in 12 months contribution but perhaps I should give The Books some thought. After all, Tolkien and I have the same initials. No, I'm joking. But I will give it consideration.

      I like your thoughts on Gollum. Lots. And I think my knee-jerk reactions against that pitiful creature are based entirely on his slimy, shudder-inducing depictions in the films.

      Looking forward to your 'Two Towers' review!

    3. He's also brilliant to read aloud. The way Tolkien wrote the character, it's impossible not to do "the voice." Out of all Tolkien's world-building genius, Gollum/Smeagol is his masterpiece.

    4. Had to come back just now and make sure you hadn't mentioned having been to New Zealand in this post and that I'd somehow glazed over that.

      Wiping brow. :)

    5. I've written about it some but not too often - so long ago now. NZ has become a fairly popular destination over the past decade, largely thanks to the LOTR films. As such, I'm a bit possessive of my own trip there and frequently qualify those discussions with an assertion that I went before it was cool.

    6. Did you write about your experiences there on this blog?

    7. I refer to the trip occasionally but I've never done a full write up. When I was in Japan, trips to other parts of Asia/Pacific were relatively manageable compared to trying to do it from here. An added advantage I had in traveling through NZ was the fact that I had friends who could put me up - other teachers on the same program. I think I only paid for two nights of lodging during my trip.

      I managed a fairly decent tour of the North Island (the Shire) during my trip - Auckland, Wellington, Rotorua, a couple different coastal regions. I only spent one night in South Island. If I ever go again, that's where I'll head. That's where most of the really beautiful scenery is.

  4. Skipping over the spoilers! Haven't read The Simarillion, which I heard a lot of the movie relies on (?), so those parts will be new to me. I'm going to see it mid-week when hopefully the crowds have thinned.

    1. I've never read it either, though I've since learned that the extra material is actually from the LOTR appendices (Thanks for the heads up, AJC!). I've never read those either, though I plan to now. I'll feel better about it if I can be reassured it all comes initially from Tolkien himself.

      Hope you enjoy it! Please let me know what you think.