Sunday Morning Movies – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

May 7, 2013


Not being a huge fan of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, I wasn’t terribly keen on seeing the prequel, especially the story is smaller and perhaps less interesting then the huge events that take place in the “main event” series of Tolkien’s work.  Doubly worse was finding out that this relatively tiny children’s book had been somehow bloated beyond all recognition into a three-part, three-hour a piece movie extravaganza that was going to suck up nine hours of my life.  I don’t want to seem cynical, but considering Peter Jackson’s relative failure to reach the heights of success he had with the original trilogy, one might think it a desperate gambit to get back in the A-list game (and get some easy money) to revisit it.  That’s harsh, though, as he clearly loves the source material, which is a problem. 

I wasn’t excited about seeing The Hobbit, but considering the amount of money it made and the fact that, well, it’s a thing, I decided I had to bite the bullet eventually.  They’ve recently completely renovated a previously shoddy Safeway supermarket and aside from adding a little Starbucks kiosk and an impressive bakery and deli section, they’ve got a Redbox machine, which means I have to drive precisely one mile less than I did before.  The previous week I used my old machine, and given circumstances I couldn’t bring the film back within 24 hours of renting it.  Obviously I was none too pleased at the prospect of paying any more than I absolutely had to for the final installment of the atrocious Twilight saga, but nonetheless, there I was, running late and bemoaning the extra $1.58 that could have gone towards half of a venti iced coffee (sweetened with half and half) at the Starbucks in Old Town where I often walk as it gives me a chance to catch up on some music.  Anyway, much to my delight, I returned it “on time”, and further investigation revealed that the due time is 9:00 pm the next day, so that’s a really useful bit of knowledge I’ve tucked away for future use.  Anyway, I apologise.  That was a pointless digression.

So after a brief – and awkward as hell – prologue featuring Ian Holm and Elijah Wood reprising their roles from the original trilogy, we get Ian McKellan back as Gandalf the Grey, only now having to strip away the mild character development he had gone through before.  We also get Martin Freeman as the younger Bilbo Baggins, and he is the saving grace of the film.  Finding a perfect line between bemusement and annoyance, he brings a sweet and honest charm to the role that will see him largely (for this film, at least) as an outsider in a group of mostly anonymous dwarves.  The dwarves include their king, who is noble and good, but the rest of them are just bickering or a bit silly and always getting into scrapes where they’re roasted on a spit or crushed by a dead goblin king.  They’re trying to reclaim their once great mountain kingdom that was invaded and taken over by a dragon called Smaug, and the sequence showing that event is easily the best of the film.  The rest of the action sequences – and there are many – feel pretty uninvolving and rote by contrast, though it was nice to see Peter Jackson’s ever-swinging camera.  Still, parts of the journey seem incredibly superfluous, like the 15 or so minutes where a trio of trolls steal some of the gang’s ponies, and they have to get them back.

Now, I vaguely remember a stone troll in the original trilogy, and I guess maybe that’s why this sequence is included, but I can’t remember if I just made that up or not.  I haven’t seen the original trilogy in at least eight years, and my memory is pretty fuzzy save for the battle in the second film, the ridiculous “I am no man” moment in the third, and Sean Bean being pelted by arrows in the first.  I actually owned them in their extended editions back when they were released, and you’d think I’d have a better memory of something I actually had in my possession (as opposed to a film I saw once and never again), but that’s memory and time for you.  It just slowly degrades away, and you’d hope that it’s the important things that stay, but the reality is we don’t get to choose what our brains think is important every time. This sort of runs contrary to our current lives in 2013 and in the digital realm where everything we do is logged and kept on a server or in some mystical cloud in the sky.  All of those useless tweets are stored somewhere, and available to us with just a click of a button.  Silly, candid photos are etched forever on Facebook or on Instagram.  I’ve recently started using Snapchat a bit, just between two friends, but it’s thrown me into a mild existential crisis.  If you don’t know, the way Snapchat works is that you take a photo and you can write or draw on it, then send it to a friend or a group of friends and they have – depending on your settings – up to 10 seconds to view it before it’s deleted and gone forever.  Maybe these photos we take aren’t recorded memories after all, but fleeting bits of ephemera that are experienced for a short period of time and then gone?  Will there be no record of a moment in a bar, or a silly sign, or of a beautiful woman washing dishes to a popular recording artist?  Apparently not, and this anti-archival approach to social media is so against what we culturally expect that I can’t help but feel it’s a little bit audacious.  Maybe moments like these, as shared between two people in real life, should be temporary.  I often think of the notion that gods are jealous of humans, because humans aren’t immortal and thus life is far more precious.  If everything is here forever, how much can a moment actually mean?  Shouldn’t there be something fleeting about friends in a space at a particular time, or a brief flirtation with a woman that, in the end, goes nowhere and yet it means the world to you at the time?  Sorry, I’ve just gone off point again.

The Hobbit is not without its charms, and to some degree the world of Middle Earth is so rich that you can’t help but want to revel in it just a little bit and know just that much more about its histories and its peoples.  There’s also Gollum, played again by Andy Serkis, who gets an incredible riddle scene with Bilbo, which might be the finest hour of this whole enterprise.  Gollum became one of the most sympathetic and tragic figures in the original trilogy, and though he hasn’t grown yet, there’s a great deal of attention paid to the sadness of the character here.  That’s in no small part because of the technology improvements over the last decade that has allowed the eyes to tremble just that little bit more.  My heart genuinely when out to the guy, as it always does.

That got me thinking about the visual effects.  It’s such a recent series to be continuing, but still the effects here are considerably better in a number of places.  Notably, not all places, as there’s a run through a goblin cavern that still looks a bit silly and still recalls the Gauntlet arcade game.  Other areas, however, see noticeable improvements, and that’s partly because of technology and partly because, as this is now a tried and true brand, there’s more money put into it up front.  It made me wonder if Peter Jackson had a desire to go back and clean up little things like Legolas riding the trunk of not-quite-Mastadon or maybe some of the compositing work.  I guess this has been in the back of everyone’s mind since George Lucas went and “enhanced” the original Star Wars trilogy in the late 90s.  Cinema exists in a strange world between construction and reality, after all, and though it’s a series of images arranged into a certain order to tell a certain story, those people and that crew and that lighting was all once there being recorded for posterity, and now that’s just not the case.  As opposed to Snapchat memories, maybe films should always be in a state of permanence.  For better or worse, they’re a record of a time and place, and going back and endlessly fidgeting with something in an attempt to “make it better” seems strangely immoral.  All of this has been fought out for a long time, and I’ll admit that all of this talk is pretty half-baked.  Shit, there I go again, drifting away from the task at hand, which is to discuss the first entry in The Hobbit trilogy.  I didn’t even have much to say about it, really, but here I am crossing the 1500 word line with a bunch of tangents that some might consider padding.  Still, it looks at first glance like a long, considered review, even if the briefest of skims will reveal otherwise.  But hey, I’ll still get the hits and the word count regardless of the quality of content.  Funny how that works.



2 Responses to “Sunday Morning Movies – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

  1. forgingshadows Says:

    I had a hard time with the Hobbit, precisely because it’s a short book (much shorter than any of the LotR installments) and because inflating it to be three films really seemed like a money-grabbing maneuver to me.

    In answer to your question about the trolls: they’re a part of the book, unlike so much of the rest of that film. It’s interesting to see a film review from the perspective of someone less familiar with the books, as you marked out as superfluous some of the things I liked the best, and made praise of some of the things I wasn’t so fond of.

    But I think we can all agree, the riddle scene was amazing.

    • Tony Dagnall Says:

      See, I liked your wanderings. They were really funny and good. As a matter of fact my mind was doing exactly the same thing as the movie was playing out in front of me in real time in the cinema. It felt like I had more time than I needed for doing just that. Just like your last sentences do, I think that too explains how I felt about the whole shebang. I’d still watch the rest just for Martin Freeman though. He was fab.

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