The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Directed by Peter Jackson, written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro, starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, and Richard Armitage - Rated PG-13
In the battle of the geek trilogies, I’ve always fallen on the side of Star Wars. Lord of the Rings is great, don’t get me wrong, but part of me agrees with Randall from Clerks 2 when he laments, “even the trees walk!” in those movies. The Rings trilogy did feature a lot of walking. But it also had some of the best battle scenes ever, the most impressive CG of the time, and very likable, funny characters. I may be a Star Wars geek through and through, but I also love the Rings. If there is one element of that trilogy I found a bit boring, however, it was the hobbits.
I once tried to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy when I was in high school, and I had to stop after a few pages. I was reading a section about hobbits and I just couldn’t take it. Author J. R. R. Tolkien was going on about pipe weed and all kinds of other nonsense, and I just did not care about any of it. When I watched the films, I felt the exact same way. I did not care a bit about Frodo and Sam and their boring walk through the mountains. I wanted to see humans, elves, dwarves, and all manner of evil creatures do battle.
So when I heard about The Hobbit moving into production, I was not that excited. I was afraid it would take all the elements I hated from the trilogy and focus only on them. It turns out I was only slightly correct. The film’s star is definitely a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins to be exact (played by Ian Holm in the trilogy, and by Martin Freeman here), but there are plenty of other characters, maybe too many.
The Hobbit is essentially about a group of dwarves (I won’t even attempt to list all of their goofy names) led by the sullen Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). They are on a mission to reclaim their home from a dragon. Of course, it isn’t an easy journey and pretty much every step forward leads to two steps back. It is a bit frustrating to deal with another trilogy set in this world in which the characters have to slowly travel to a specific location. It’s really infuriating when you know that Gandalf (Ian McKellen) can just call on those birds from the trilogy whenever he wants. It’s also a bit maddening when you know that this trilogy is based on one short book rather than a lengthier work like Rings. It all feels a bit drawn out, and, to be honest, the film felt like the necessary first part that will lead a far more entertaining second and third film.
That said, this is still a Lord of the Rings film directed by Peter Jackson. Believe it or not, I truly liked it. I just feel a little disappointed when I compare it to the other films. I suppose that’s not fair, but how can you help it? If you liked the trilogy, you should find some, if not all, of this film quite enjoyable. There are beautiful locales, goofy creatures, Gollum, Gandalf, the elves, a slight mention of Sauron, plenty of action, etc. It’s a good time at the movies, and it’s certainly worth your money. The Hobbit is easier to nitpick than the other films, but when you stop judging it against the other, superior films, you realize that it is very entertaining.
I did find myself slipping into a negative mindset as I watched, however. The dwarves were more annoying than amusing. Gandalf’s vague proclamations were a bit more maddening than usual. Bilbo’s whiny, reluctant hero was a bit too familiar. The action at times felt too cartoonish. I was thinking of all of this and imaging how I was going to write this up in a review that would be middling heading towards downright negative. As you can see, I did start to do just that. But as I let the film sink in and I thought about it a day or two later, I came to the conclusion that I was being a bit of a snob. Perhaps this isn’t very critical of me, but I decided to forgive The Hobbit its flaws because once you get past all of them, this is a fun first film that can only lead to bigger and better things. Now, if the next two Hobbit films fail to blow me away, then you’ll get to read a full-on negative geek meltdown. I hope that’s not the case (although that does sound fun to write…). Until then, just accept The Hobbit for what it is: a lesser work in an amazing series of films. That is still much better than the usual crap you’re subjected to on a regular basis.
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)
Seriously? The giant birds again? Why does Gandalf only use them as a last resort? And why couldn't they just fly them all their destination? Why strand them on what appeared to be some very precarious rocks? Those birds bothered me in the first trilogy, and I'll be damned if Jackson didn't roll them out at the beginning of this new trilogy.
The goofiness of the film was annoying. The singing dwarves were boring and stupid enough, but did we need a scene of them tossing dishes around? Jackson can justify all he wants about making this into a trilogy, but when I see dwarves doing the dishes, I think that he's adding a bit too much.
That goblin king thing was way too similar to Boss Nass from Episode One. Nothing else to say, really, it just seemed too cartoonish.
With the introduction of the hillbilly wizard, I am now convinced that all wizards in Middle Earth are weak stoners. Why does it seem like Gandalf has no powers other than yelling and whispering to birds? And shouldn't the bird whispering be a skill exclusive to that animal loving wizard? I'm just wanting to see Gandalf let loose.
Randall has new ammo for his Rings argument because even the mountains walk in this movie! Still wondering what that was about, and why the mountains didn't take part in the battle for all of Middle Earth sixty years later...
Finally, the battle scenes were weak at times. There are some great moments, sure, but it seemed as if the dwarves just had to run into their enemies to defeat them. Most of them are designed in such a way that physical battle is impossible, so I suppose Jackson's hands were tied there. I'm just saying action for action's sake is fine if the action is interesting. When it's there to add twenty minutes to a film, it sticks out like a sore thumb.