My hubby and I saw “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (hereafter referred to as THAUJ) film Friday night (December 14th) in 24 fps 3D and loved it! They didn’t have 48 fps in my area, or I would have chosen that format. The THAUJ film was awesome–on so many levels! So I thought that I would also weigh in with my general review of the film. I’m sure that as I see the film again–I will revisit other aspects of the film in more detail in future essays. But in particular here and now, I will cover the major areas that have been in contention leading up to this film’s release: technology, story and characters/plot development, acting performances and character development.
Technology has been the big bone of contention that everyone has talked about leading up to the film–the 3D and frames per second debate. I’m with Sir Peter Jackson in likening it to people being not sure if they want to hear talkie movies in 1927 or see color movies in 1939. People, the technology used in this film is just one more step forward in the evolution of filmic experiences. I especially liked that THAUJ Director Sir Peter Jackson and his Director of Photography Andrew Lesnie used the 3D format in a restrained and appropriate way. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is a beautifully lush and almost a painterly film visually. Kudos to the Art Directors such as Richard Taylor, Weta Workshop, and others tasked with creating the world of Middle Earth. The attention to detail is extraordinary and appreciated. The visual effect of 3D was subtle and riveting–no trying to throw weapons at us to make us flinch. Just a couple of birdies and butterflies flew toward us. The rest of the 3D effect felt like an intense depth of field visual experience–as if you were there and seeing everything take place. Loved it! This 3D effect did not make me nauseous, nor did I fall down when I got up from my seat. It was a completely immersive experience. And I definitely want to see the film again–this time in the HFR/48 fps 3D and maybe the Imax format. I will have to go to the big city two hours away for that. I’ll just forgo the jiggle DBox seats. No need tempt fate on the nausea. Ha! Oh and a final thank you to the filmmakers for not blasting our hearing out with sound effects–we can actually hear the dialogue in this film. Bless you!
Story and Characters/Plot Development:
I’ll admit it. I’m an Austen, Bronte, Wharton, etc. kind of literary reader. I had never read The Hobbit growing up–it was a book that my brother read. Sorry to the many gals who had read it as children or adults and loved it. Who knows? If I had read it as a child, I might have loved it, too. When the film was announced as being greenlit two years ago, I found an old paperback copy of my husbands that was crumbling and started reading it. I got about 50 pages in before other life took precedence. And then all the brew ha ha about the the writers bringing in additional Tolkien elements occurred. So I decided that I would wait and see the movie so that I wouldn’t predispose myself to not liking the story simply because it contained non Hobbit book proper material.
But I loved Sir Peter’s storytelling on The Lord of the Rings trilogy–albeit, some of the sections in LOTR seemed a bit over long to me–alright already with the Frodo angst on the ledge. So I knew that I would love his retelling of The Hobbit. But here in THAUJ, Sir Peter and his co writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro were sleek and streamlined in storytelling and plot development. The plots and characters were well developed for the most part and there was no padding to fill out the time. Thank you! Plot arcs beat orcs any day of the week. Ha!
I welcomed and needed the Prologue section in the beginning of THAUJ to understand and set up this film’s story within the context of the importance of Thorin Oakenshield’s Quest to reclaim his people’s birthright. And yes folks, if I were to have subtitled, the subtitle to this film, I would have labeled it “Thorin’s Quest”. Since the filmmakers didn’t choose to use that title, I will snag it for the sequel title to my short story fan fiction tale “Thorin’s Hope”. Seeing the devastation and the horror of the Dwarven race going from a respected people to beaten and homeless wanderers was heartbreaking. And yes, their exile did resonate with me as being emblematic of other dispossessed peoples. Elven King Thranduil’s (portrayed by Lee Pace) isolationist policy of not helping the Dwarves when they were initially attacked by the dragon and then the orcs–supposedly it was a risk assessment that favored Elves and not Dwarves survival–was reminiscent of events in our own world history. The bottom line of do we help someone in need when it is in our power to do so, or do we turn a blind eye to their suffering is one morality fable that argues for helping others. Personally, I hope that Thranduil gets what is coming to him in the next two Hobbit films. Snap!
Enter the Wizard and his Hobbit secret weapon to aid Thorin Oakenshield and the Dwarves in their quest. Here is where my ignorance about the book comes into play. In the film, I would have liked to have known more about why wizard Gandalf the Grey was so set upon helping Thorin now. More so than that he knew and respected Thorin’s father and grandfather. Okay, the planets aligned (euphemistically speaking) on that map–but Gandalf couldn’t read the map until Elven King Elrond interpreted it for him, so how would Gandalf know? And though the token/Tolkien female Elven Lady Galadriel encouraged Gandalf to support Thorin–but that was after they had started their quest. I feel like I am missing a piece of the puzzle. Maybe the crux of the matter was shared in the film when I stepped out for a potty break and it is my fault that I missed it. Then there is the Bilbo everyman–or in this case, every Hobbit–plot device aspect to this story that helps we the audience see how truly daunting a task they have ahead of them. Though the unfortunately named Bilbo–don’t get your consonants mixed up on that one, ha!–looks like no one’s hero. Bilbo is the doubter, the skeptic, the untried novice–a tensely high maintenance Felix Unger from the Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” comes to mind. But I still would have liked more of a cathartic moment for Bilbo joining the adventure other than that the Dwarves had eaten him out of house and home anyway and why worry about restocking the larder. Bilbo left a tidy house and his tidy life behind him. But, I needed more telegraphing that Bilbo was dissatisfied with his sedate life and that is why he rashly joined the quest.
Then finally we come to Thorin Oakenshield and his motley band of Dwarves. THAUJ is the beginning of the Dwarves last chance to right a terrible wrong done to them–if they have the strength and courage to pursue it against impossible odds. Even none of their other brethren Dwarves will help them. This band of Dwarves are alone among a race that has been made to be alone and excluded. Yet, what the Dwarves do in attempting this quest is not for themselves alone–it is for their whole Dwarven race. That really touches at your heartstrings–the nobility and the self sacrifice. Thorin is no Jason and the Argonauts searching for the golden fleece. But there are some similarities between Greek mythology and Tolkien’s legendary story: golden fleece vs golden wealth of the Dwarves, fire breathing bulls vs a fire breathing dragon, and Jason will be made King of Thessaly vs Thorin will be made King of the Dwarves again if they succeed, respectively. It’s not a perfect comparison. But I’m just saying. *Grati shrugs her shoulders winsomely* Again, my Tolkien ignorance is probably shining through here.
One more character and plot question for those of you who are Hobbit afficianados. I wonder if I missed the resolution to Radagast the Brown’s concern about a “dark force” in the forest when I had to step out for a potty break. Or, were the script writers just setting us up for the next film with this plot point as a teaser? Azog didn’t seem to be particularly wizardy or magical as an explanation for the dark power–although he is quite malevolent and in need of good dental care. Believe me, Azog needing a root canal would be mighty fearsome–but not extending to the realm of the magical underworld. And the dragon is napping until the end of the movie–so the evil force is not Smaug. So, who or what is behind this dark force killing the forest and its creatures? Might it be a wizard we learn not to trust later in the LOTR trilogy? Or is there a wholly new evil entity that has yet to be revealed? Again, I probably missed it when I stepped out for a potty break and I’m way off base with my questions here.
Acting Performances and Character Development
Where to begin? I think everyone was well cast and played their roles to perfection! I can’t envision other actors in these roles. So let’s hit the highlights of the lead actors and then a few of the Dwarves in the Company. First off, it was a nicely sentimental touch to have Ian Holm reprising his role as the older Bilbo and serving as initial narrator. Gandalf the Grey as portrayed by Sir Ian McKellen is sage and wise–though perhaps not benefitting from the 60 years of seasoning that Gandalf will have had by the time of the LOTR stories. So Sir Ian’s Gandalf in THAUJ seems a bit of a loose cannon in Wizard circles–certainly removed from the unhinged Radagast the Brown portrayed feverishly well by Sylvester McCoy, and not as otherworldly and above the fray as the Elven Lady Galadriel portrayed mysteriously by Cate Blanchett. Gandalf is the party planner for this adventure. But as I stated above, I needed more foretelling as to why this quest is so important to Gandalf. How does helping the Dwarves fit into the larger scheme of things for Elves, Hobbits, Wizards, etc.? But that is a writing issue, not an acting issue. Sir Christopher Lee portraying Saruman plays devil’s advocate quite nicely–becoming a thorn in Gandalf’s side. Finally, Elven King Elrond portrayed with infinitely condescending grace by Hugo Weaving who displays gravitas and fairness of mind–if not fairness of action–toward the Dwarves in trying to prevent them from continuing their quest after sojourning in Rivendale. Elrond seems rather annoyed that everyone doesn’t automatically agree with his pompous and bombastic assessment that “there are many who would not deem it wise” “to enter the mountain”. To that I say, daddy move over and let sonny–Thorin–have the keys to the kingdom, if not the car.
Then we have Martin Freeman’s portrayal of Hobbit Bilbo Baggins. Again, Felix Unger comes to mind–fastidious, a neat freak, doilies, and no Hobbit lady in sight. I have to say that the trailers showcasing Bilbo certainly charmed me. I had not seen Mr. Freeman in anything else other than his stand-in role vignette in the film “Love Actually”. I haven’t seen his BAFTA award winning performance of Watson in the BBC’s tv show Sherlock. But I have to say that now having seen THAUJ, Mr. Freeman’s Bilbo is growing on me. His character arc believably has him stretch out of his comfort zone–riding ponies, sword fighting, using his book learning to outwit Gollum portrayed appropriately creepily by Andy Serkis who also served as 2nd Unit Director, and then saving the hero Thorin. But again, I wish there had been one more scene–showing Bilbo’s dissatisfaction with his life before Gandalf came calling–that would firmly establish why Bilbo gave up hearth and home to go into the woods with the Dwarves. But that is a writing issue.
Thorin Oakenshield portrayed by Richard Armitage was the reason that I initially became interested in seeing THAUJ. Mr. Armitage so immerses himself in his character portrayals that we as an audience experience each new persona he brings to life as a fully multi-dimensional human being–or in this case, Dwarven King being. And Thorin does not disappointment! He is amazing! Again, I would not have recognized Mr. Armitage in this role if I did not know it was him–because he so transforms himself into Thorin Oakenshield. And I’m not merely talking about the facial prosthetics or the Dwarf muscle padding to give his own muscles girth. It is in his deeper resonating voice, in his physicality that conveys both a fierce warrior and the gravitas of the noble king. And finally, it is in the Dwarven humanity he reveals–like peeling back layers of an onion–by Thorin’s finely nuanced facial expressions conveying such heart breaking pathos with nuanced gazes and firmly set jawed determination or slack jawed despair. Again, the trailers leading up to the movie had mesmerized me as to Thorin’s character of deep seated loss, betrayal, responsibility, nobility, bitterness, mistrust, lingering hope, and monumental self doubt. Thorin couldn’t save his people before and he has to continue to fight everyone to try to reclaim his birthright now. The despair in his voice when Thorin asks Bilbo “Why did you come?” betrays Thorin’s almost shredded hope that he clings to tenaciously. Again, Thorin’s character arc was amazingly uplifting in its climax of him learning to trust others again when Bilbo saves his life by putting his own life in danger. The Elves did not and would not help Thorin and his people. And the other brethren Dwarves not in this company would not do that for him. But Bilbo and Gandalf do. Thorin has to rethink everything he ever thought about his world and how he navigates within it. Another undercurrent to Thorin’s persona that Mr. Armitage brings out is his protectivness of his Dwarven comrades–saving Balin in the prologue and his repeated attempts to keep his young nephews Kili and Fili safe, his only kin who are left. Thorin knows that they are the last of the House of Durin, and if their legacy is to endure, then they must endure. Richard Armitage conveys all of these nuanced emotions and character motivations for Thorin Oakenshield very subtly. Richard Armitage’s Thorin has true gravitas as the King Under the Mountain in exile. Thorin is a man whose leadership you would follow, as his Dwarven comrades do. And as Thorin says, “I will take each and every one of these Dwarves over the mightiest army. Loyalty, honor, a willing heart, I can ask no more than that.” It gave me chills to hear this quote within the context of the film.
Lastly, the rest of the Band of Dwarves are beginning to be fleshed out in THAUJ–and will no doubt be more so in the following two films. A few of the Dwarves that stand out for me at this point are–in order of my opinion of their importance to Thorin. Balin portrayed by Ken Stott as part of the old guard and one who was rescued by Thorin when Smaug devastated their kingdom. And later, Balin acts as a sage to Bilbo. Kili portrayed by engagingly Aidan Turner and Fili portrayed mischievously by Dean O’Gorman are Thorin’s nephews and play the twenty something bad boys itching for a fight well–I refer to them as mirth/Fili and mayhem/Kili. Bofur portrayed by James Nesbit is given the task of acting as watch while the men sleep–to guard over them. Bofur has a twinkle in his eye that shows he knows that life is worth living. Ori portrayed endearingly by Adam Brown is the naïve Dwarf with a sling shot–not a David to the Golith Azog, but he’ll work up to it. Dwalin portrayed by the formidable Graham McTavish seems to be the most seasoned fighter next to Richard Armitage’s Thorin, so in that sense Dwalin seems like Thorin’s right hand man. The looks of the Dwarves are all very distinct. And I like that the rotund Bombur portrayed by Stephen Hunter is just as much a fighter as the rest of them. There is only one scene where his weight or size is an issue–when the table breaks underneath him in Rivendale. My apologies to the other Dwarves and their actors–Jed Brophy (Nori), Mark Hadlow (Dori), William Kirchner (Bifur), John Callen (Oin), and Peter Hambleton (Gloin). I’m sure that I will come to know you better in the next two film installments.
In conclusion, I want to see this film THAUJ again and again. It is beautifully made. Its themes of struggle and sacrifice, nobility and purpose, betrayal and belonging are universal and timeless. I am really hooked on the story–despite the story bits that I didn’t understand because I’m not well versed in the Tolkien world. My only wish is that I would have forgone the drinks and popcorn–which made me excuse myself and have to trot the length of the multiplex theatre twice. There and back again–so to speak. Ha! But other than no potty break intermission for a 3 hour movie, I’m cool! I loved this film and I can’t wait to see it again–at 3D 48 fps HFR. Snap!
P.S. For links to other bloggers reviews of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”, visit Servetus’ blog “Me & Richard Armitage” for her latest Legenda listing (#57) of what has been going on in Richard Armitage blog land at http://meandrichard.wordpress.com/2012/12/16/legenda-57-stuff-worth-reading/ I haven’t read these other reviews yet, but I look forward to doing so.
P.S. I welcome hearing your opinions about the film. Might you be able to answer any of my story or character questions that I posed above since I am not a Hobbit or Tolkien geekette–yet. Ha! Are there nuanced scenes in the film that you liked–or disliked? And why? But let’s set a ground rule of respecting that people viewing THAUJ–other commenters and myself–are allowed to have differing opinions from you or from me. No one is more right or more wrong than anyone else. It is our opinion–it is your opinion, it is not fact. We each experience this film based upon our backgrounds and all of our experiences leading up to it. And sometimes we have to agree to disagree.
P.S. Bonus: And for something completely creative–beyond anything I could ever do–Tannni has come up with a Christmas Thorin Graphic and now an animation of it with music that are stunningly beautiful. Here are her links:
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (Thorin)
Screensaver download here (For PC only)
Does not work on iPhone or iPad
Full cast and crew credits for “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” are found at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0903624/fullcredits
“Peter Jackson swears ‘The Hobbit’ technology won’t make you sick”, by Peter Howel, 12/13/12, The Record.com http://www.therecord.com/whatson/artsentertainment/article/853119–peter-jackson-swears-the-hobbit-technology-won-t-make-you-sick
“Thorin’s Hope”, a fan fiction in 9 chapters by Gratiana Lovelace. First serialized here on my blog in Fall 2011. The initial blog link to this story is found at https://gratianads90.wordpress.com/2011/09/08/thorins-hope-a-love-story-by-gratianads90-aka-lynne-grace-90811-post-11/ Subsequent chapter links are embedded within each chapter. Or, you may read “Thorins’ Hope” on my Wattpad site, at the beginning link found at http://www.wattpad.com/story/1904940-thorin%27s-hope-a-love-story-by-gratiana-lovelace-8
Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple”, a play, movie, and tv show, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Odd_Couple
Jason and the Argonauts seeking the golden fleece in Greek mythology info may be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Fleece
All “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” cast images and bio links are courtesy of www.thehobbit.com