Wow. Just wow. That was quite the movie. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was every bit the adventure it claimed to be. And like any adventure, it had its share of good parts, fantastic parts, not-so-good parts, and (in my opinion) some very-well timed funny parts as well. I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite being a bit apprehensive after having read a lot of mixed reviews over the past few days. How did it stack up against the LOTR trilogy? Difficult to say, really. It was a different story, with different goals and motivations. But, if forced to rank AUJ against the LOTR films, I'd have to say I thought it at least as good as ROTK, better than TT and nearly as good as FOTR. Of course, I've had a lot of time to think (and re-watch) the LOTR films, so my final opinion will undoubtedly change in the future. I'll dive into the details after the break . . . so read on, Tolkien fan, and see what An Unexpected Journey has in store for you.
Now, before I get any further, I'll just specify two things: first, now that the movie is out I'm not really going to worry too much about spoilers; so if you haven't seen the movie yet, tread carefully; second, I'll quickly clarify what format I saw the film in (since apparently there is like seven different possibilities). Because I wasn't anywhere near a theatre offering the 48 fps deal, I ended up going to a 3D 24 fps showing, which I really liked. I couldn't help but think through the whole show how cool the LOTR films would look translated into a 3D format. Here's hoping . . . All right, now on to the review:
What I liked:
In short, I loved the movie a lot more than I was expecting to. Don't get me wrong, I've been excited for the Hobbit movies for well over a year . . . but since the movie premiered last week, several less-than-stellar reviews have hit the interwebs. So by Thursday night I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. Thankfully, Mr. Jackson, the actors and the entire crew of AUJ came through in a big, big way.
- Bilbo Baggins. Wow, talk about nailing a character. Martin Freeman did a fantastic job. His portrayal of the titular hobbit was amazing in every possible way. From the serious moments, to the adventurous moments, and to the liberal sprinkling of comedic moments in between, Bilbo was the undoubted star of the show . . . no mean feat considering how many other fantastic actors he shared the screen with.
- Gandalf. Having Gandalf the Grey back on the screen was a real treat. For whatever reason, Gandalf the White in TT and ROTK just doesn't have the same presence as the irascible Wandering Wizard. One of my favorite things in AUJ is the glimpses you get of the powerful wizard lurking just beneath Mithrandir's rugged exterior. Two such moments were: first, the subtle glances and expressions Gandalf throws around during the unexpected party at Bag End, betraying just how nervous the wizard is that Thorin will not accept Bilbo into his company; and second, Gandalf's timely arrival in Goblin Town, when all the noise dies down as a brilliant glow throws back the scrabbling goblins and Gandalf steps calmly into the fray. Great moments.
- Thorin Oakenshield. I really wasn't expecting much from this character. He just didn't look right, in my opinion. He was supposed to be older and shorter and more, well . . . dwarfy. But somehow this throneless king managed to move past all of my expectations and deliver a powerful, even moving performance. And that is no small challenge, considering that most of Thorin's truly powerful moments have yet to occur in the story.
- Radagast the Brown. Much to my surprise, Radagast was *possibly* my second-favorite part of the movie, following Bilbo. I'd heard complaints in several reviews that the character felt like a "throw-in" without much purpose or point. I couldn't disagree more. I mean, he is the one who first identifies the growing threat in Mirkwood. He is the one who discovers that that threat is centered around Dol Goldur. He is the one who explores the Necromancer's fortress and finds evidence that the Nazgul are taking shape once more. He is the one who delivers this important information to Gandalf, who then relays it to the White Council. And finally, it is Radagast that provides a crucial distraction while Thorin and Company escape the Wargs and reach Rivendell. Now are any of these events canonical? No. Not in the slightest. And that should have bothered me. But somehow it didn't. It fit the movie and was entertaining at the same time. Good stuff.
- Middle-Earth Easter Eggs. Did anyone else notice how many little tidbits of Tolkien lore were thrown (almost offhandedly) into the movie? I'll probably forget some of them, but I know that I caught references to Gundabad, Ungoliant, Golfimbol (sp?), and the Blue Wizards, to name but a few. Again, I know that most of these little references were not in the book originally, but it was just plain-old fun to have the horizons of the movie Middle-Earth expanded in leaps and bounds.
- Riddles in the Dark. I won't say much here except that Andy Serkis' Gollum was so good that it made me wish they'd add Gollum into the other Hobbit movies as well.
- The Music. Of course, the music was top notch . . . yet another drain on my pocket-book.
- 3D format. I'll admit that I'm a sucker for the "tasteful" application of 3D. And The Hobbit didn't disappoint. And watching the Eagles carry the Company off into the moon-lit night over the Misty Mountains? Gorgeous.
- Roast Mutton. The Troll scene was well-executed, despite the fact that it deviated from the book in a number of ways. Bilbo's delaying tactic with the trolls was simply too fun not to like.
What I Didn't Like:
- Frodo and Old Bilbo. This was the only part of the movie that I thought was really, really unnecessary. I mean, what was the point beyond making everyone feel a bit nostalgic for LOTR? Ok, ok . . . that was probably the only point. But really, all of the history Bilbo recounts could have just as easily been explained by Balin or Thorin (who does it in the book) during the unexpected party.
- The White Council. My negative reaction to this part came as a surprise to me. The Appendices in ROTK have always fascinated me, and I was looking forward to seeing the battle between the White Council and the Necromancer fleshed out. However, the meeting between Gandalf, Sauruman, Galadriel and Elrond seemed too drawn out and not particularly well-written. My biggest beef with the whole scene was this: Mr. Jackson had the opportunity to show a whole new side of Sauruman . . . at one point, Sauruman was respected by the Wise all across Middle-Earth, and even when he had begun to actively work towards his own empowerment, he managed to fool almost everyone. We should have seen this Sauruman in the movie . . . a convincing speaker, an erudite scholar, and a powerful wizard. Instead, all we get to see is the same Sauruman that appears in all three LOTR films: a not-so-subtly-evil egomaniac. Really? Couldn't we have gotten at least a little character development? Please?
- Azog, the Pale Orc. What the heck? Why was this character in the movie? I mean, he wasn't that bad, but most of the character was a complete fabrication, and one that wasn't needed. Supposedly, Azog loses an arm to Thorin at the Battle of Moria and then goes into hiding for several decades, only to reappear hungry for vengeance on Thorin and all of Durin's Folk. In the book, Azog is killed at the Battle of Moria (better known as the Battle of Azanulbizar) and it is his son, Bolg, who leads the army of orcs, goblins and wargs in the Battle of the Five Armies. So my question is this: why couldn't Mr. Jackson & Co just let Azog die like he was supposed to, and then introduced Bolg, hungry for revenge against the dwarves for killing his father? That would have been A LOT more simple and more true to the book. Missed opportunity . . .
- The Tone of the Movie. I can't blame Mr. Jackson too much for this, but I really felt like the tone or "feel" of the movie was off. The book is undeniably a children's novel, and as such is much lighter in tone than LOTR, filled with humor and a simple narrative. The tone of the movie, however, feels like it was split by Mr. Jackson's desire to satisfy two opposing groups of fans: those who wanted the Hobbit movies to follow the book and be more childlike, versus those who wanted the Hobbit movies to have the same gritty feel as the LOTR films. What you end up with is a film that is filled with humor, lighter tones and dozens of funny moments, but also a good deal of slicing, dicing, and head-loping that––while pleasing to the young adult fanbase) is far beyond what most parents will be willing to expose their children to. In the end, this bipolar nature of the film just ends up feeling awkward. Not enough to ruin the film, but definitely enough to make me raise an eyebrow several times.
All in all, I loved The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and would recommend it to everyone, whether you're a fan of the LOTR films, or a Tolkien purist. Go to it expecting a fun adventure that pays tribute to The Hobbit without following it too closely. You won't be disappointed.