What I’m Watching: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I went to see The Hobbit last night.  It was…OK.  Purists, I’ll spare a thorough discussion of if it sticks closely to the book or not (though, it doesn’t really and it’s not like I can help myself to make some comparisons) and it’s the genre of movie (elves, swords, gruesome antagonists, magic) that you either like, or you really really don’t.  Though I do have a few things to say about it…

1. The movie is long and far too padded.  I know Peter Jackson (from hereon known as PJax) and co. are planning to turn it into a trilogy, and for that I say shame on them and call greedy shenanigans.  It is a good book.  It is even a great book.  It is also a simple story written for young readers, and has few of the complexities of plot that followed when JRR Tolkein wrote The Lord of the Rings.  I can see a two-movie deal, but not three.  Breaking it into a movie trilogy does a disservice to the story by diluting (or inventing new) action and creating a series of movies that can’t stand independently; part of the genius of the LOTR film series is that, while clearly connected in the telling of an epic tale, they are all still different films.  This is like a TV miniseries I can’t see the end of for another two years.  Feh.  Dirty pool.

2. It is gorgeous.

I mean, really.  Look at that place!  The mountains, the lush forests, the patch of farmland that’s become The Shire…perfect!  Set design?  Costuming?  The accessories?  The swords?  Unimpeachable!  It is 166 minutes of pure visual feast, well done indeed.

3.  Except for when it isn’t.  In the book, the character of Radagast the Brown only appears once, delivers information, and goes back into the wilderness.  He’s absolutely portrayed as a hermit-ish loner who is much more comfortable around flora and fauna than he is around things that talk and drink tea.  He wasn’t portrayed as the caricature of some high-strung eccentric adventure-hippie.  (Nor did he have a rabbit-drawn sleigh; see “long and padded”.)  But.  I could deal with that.  The bird nesting in his hair?  I could deal with that.  The pseudo-comic relief of magicking the hedgehog back to life?  I could deal with that.  It was the matted line of bird shit from said nesting bird that ran down Radagasts’s face and was all in his hair and beard that sent me over the edge.  I kind of couldn’t look directly at the screen when he was on and literally (in a grammarian-approved way, absolutely and sadly not figuratively) threw up in my mouth a little at one point because of it.  It’s not like I can’t “handle” grim things on a screen.  I didn’t mind the giant goiter and bepustuled look of the Great Goblin.  I didn’t mind Azog the Defiler and his weird gaping scars.  I even wanted there to be a bit more gore, because they dispatch a ton of enemies–especially in the goblin caves–with precious little blood.  But Radagast’s portrayal was expanded into something so…weird…and unpleasant, that I completely fail to understand.

4.  Martin Freeman was born to play Bilbo.  I’ve enjoyed him in everything I’ve seen him in (and I just looked at his filmography; I still have a lot of watching to do), though he will always have a place in my heart for his work as John, the tentative, sweet, entirely vanilla body double who meets the equally tentative Judy while working on a porno together.

In The Hobbit, Freeman manages to bring Bilbo’s complexities to life; he is a homebody who wants to be back in his hole while having an adventure and becoming a loyal, trusted member of his company.  His life has been sheltered, but he is still brave.  I believe him when he gets the look on his face indicating that he’s facing something he clearly doesn’t want to do, but goes in and does it anyway.  Bilbo embodies a difficult combination of characteristics: he is stodgy, clever, fussy, warm, well aware of social expectations and still has a deep-seated global interest.  Freeman finds a way to express all of this while making him entirely endearing.  Thank you, Martin Freeman.

5.  I can’t believe PJax included some of the songs.  I mean…seriously, Hobbit fans…who among you has not skipped past all the singing in the book?  None of you?  Yep, me neither.  Did we really need “That’s What Bilbo Baggins Hates” in the movie?  It’s not like when I think of dwarves I say, “Oh, they’re such a musical people.”  Come on.  I kept expecting David Bowie to wander over from the set of Labyrinth and bust out a little “Magic Dance“.

6.  Wargs are badass.

7.  What.  Is UP (underline, underline, underline)?  With the hot dwarf?

Hellooooo, Thorin.

No no no no no no no no!  They’re lumpy and bulbous, not fricking leather clad-moody hero-Richard Armitage-long, meaningful stares-buckling some swash-level of hot.  Now I have to go and rethink my entire concept of the sexuality of Middle Earth.

8.  Andy Serkis should be knighted for his portrayal of Gollum.  Check him out reading the part live, to an audience.

Damn, son.  Those are some serious chops.

Would I see it again?  Would I recommend it?  Will I see the sequels?  Oh, heavy sigh.

I will see it again, when I own it on Blu-Ray, because I am exactly the person PJax knows he can manipulate out of her money.  Which is exactly why I will also see the sequels.  He’s got me by the shorthairs, damn him.  But no, I wouldn’t recommend going to see it, not as a story, not on its own.  There are some wonderful points to it, but I don’t believe the story is successfully told.  It’s too padded.  There’s too much exposition and not enough plot and character development.  The movie would be much tighter if it were done in two parts…I mean…it’s not like they tried to break Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into a stand-alone trilogy. Why would this merit three parts, unless it were to extract a third viewing out of my pocket?  Oh, PJax.  I thought you were awesome, once.  I loved your vision, once.  Now?  Meh, not quite as much.

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