The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) – Peter Jackson

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Let me just start this off by saying that when The Fellowship of the Ring came out in 2001, my sister and I (ages 11 and 8) literally wrote a petition to my dad about why we should be allowed to watch it, despite its PG-13 rating.  Our petition was successful (!!!), and after giddily enjoying the first film in the trilogy, I began literally counting down the days until the second film would come out.  I go a little crazy for the Lord of the Rings movies.  I don’t know why.

You can imagine, then, my excitement/anxiety concerning The Hobbit.  I wanted it to be as awesome as The Lord of the Rings, but I had my doubts, mostly because of the decision to split the story into three films.  The Hobbit —the only Tolkien work I’ve actually read — tells the story of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his journey with a band of dwarves and the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to reclaim the dwarves’ mountain home from the dragon Smaug.  If Tolkien could fit that entire adventure into a 300-page book, Peter Jackson should be able to squeeze it into a 3-hour movie.  Right?

I tried not to worry about it while I was watching, although there are certainly some aspects of the film that suffer because of that choice, particularly in the beginning of the film.  After a necessary but sort of cloying introduction with Frodo (Elijah Wood), we are taken into Bilbo’s past to witness the arrival of Gandalf and the dwarves.  The entire first hour of the film could probably be cut in half (did the dwarves really need to sing two songs while feasting at Bilbo’s house?), and you get the feeling that Jackson is taking his time with these early scenes in order to fill out the film.  Annoying.

Once the action finally gets going, though, The Hobbit really does take on the excitement and grandeur that I was hoping for.  Tolkien’s brilliant story is there, and even chopping it up into three segments and beefing them up with supplemental plotlines can’t ruin it.  For LotR fans, this film also has a satisfying mix of familiar characters — Frodo (briefly), Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, the unforgettable Gollum — as well as some new and equally likable ones.  Freeman, with his kind face and bumbling demeanor, is a perfect choice for Bilbo, and we watch him stumble from mishap to mishap and root for him every step of the way.

The Hobbit, unlike the LotR trilogy, is a book for children, and the film is actually pretty lighthearted and sweet.  While it’s certainly refreshing not having constantly to worry about the Dark Lord Sauron destroying Middle Earth, there are moments in The Hobbit in which things seem a little over-simplified.  The dwarves are constantly making quips at each other, which fits with their jolly nature — but I hard time believing that more serious characters like Gandalf and the Great Goblin would also throw around one-liners in moments of peril.  Perhaps my biggest problem with the film was Azog, the Pale Orc, an archetypal villain complete with a scarred face and an evil laugh.  These aspects of the film were not taken directly from Tolkien’s text, and I felt that they strayed from Tolkien’s style in favor of a more generic blockbuster formula.

This film definitely wasn’t perfect.  I would have loved to get the entire story in one go, because, unlike the LotR trilogy, it wasn’t meant to be experienced in segments. That being said, I really enjoyed the movie and I thought it was quite well done.  The Riddles in the Dark scene was pretty perfect, and the ending was killer (I was shocked that Jackson didn’t go for his usual monologue-about-the-dark-times-to-come-but-how-there-is-still-hope-and-even-little-hobbits-can-make-a-difference type of ending).  And by stretching The Hobbit into a trilogy, we get that much more time to absorb the beautiful spectacle that is Middle Earth, and to delve into some of the other texts that Tolkien has written.

And let’s be real — no matter what Peter Jackson does, I will always be excited for the next Tolkien film to come out.  I just can’t help myself.

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