The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Posted: December 14, 2012 in Movie Reviews

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” begins one of the most adored pieces of writing in literary history. Indeed, how many tens of thousands, if not millions, of children (or adults) have been affected in some way by the whimsical-yet-critical storytelling of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Therefore, in order to create a cinematic experience that embodies the very essence of “The Hobbit”, one must first understand all its many facets. Peter Jackson has proved, four times now, that he is the only, and I mean only, capable director to take Tolkien’s beloved stories and turn them into a delightful experience.

Ever since The Return of the King dazzled our senses and created a sense of adventure within ourselves, both Tolkien and Jackson fans have been waiting for this amazing moment—–The Hobbit brought to life on the big screen.

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 Summary: (No spoilers)

In the olden days, the world was greener and more cheerful, and Thror, King Under the Mountain reigned over the dwarvin city or Erebor, where he mined and hewed his gold and silver and amassed the greatest collection of treasure in the history of Middle-earth. It was then that peace abounded and riches were plenty.

But that all ended when Smaug the Terrible, who had an insatiable hunger for treasure, came and drove the dwarves from their home. Forced to change their way of life to survive, the people of Erebor and Dale scattered throughout Middle-earth, waiting for the day when the King would return to reclaim their stolen city.

Now many years later, Thorin Oakenshield (played by Richard Armitage), grandson of Thror, has decided that Smaug has had possession of Erebor’s great wealth for long enough, and assembles a company of thirteen dwarves and the wizard Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) to reclaim their city and put an end to the dragon once and for all.

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

Thorin & Co.

On Gandalf’s recruitment list, though, is the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (played by Martin Freeman) of the Shire, who will act as the company’s “burglar”. However, hobbits never have any adventures or do anything unexpected, and young Mr. Baggins’ reluctance is a relief to Thorin, but a disappointment to Gandalf.

 But the more adventurous side of Bilbo eventually wins, and he suddenly finds himself going on an unexpected journey; for what reason, he doesn’t completely know. Along the way, Bilbo discovers things about himself that he never thought possible.

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 “True courage is about knowing not when to take a life, but when to spare one.” Vital words from Gandalf the Grey, advice that Bilbo eventually uses later on. And the list of life lessons to be gleaned from The Hobbit are numerous still. Another common cliché in the story is “never judge a book by its cover.” In this case, never judge people by their size, or their stamina, or their weaknesses.

One of the messages that I loved about The Lord of the Rings was that power is not limitless, as opposed to films like Harry Potter where they show that wizards are great and powerful and have no weaknesses or limits. Gandalf, on the other hand, is too strong even to handle the Ring of Power and wouldn’t touch it if he alone could save Middle-earth. He entrusts it instead to the simplest, most common person.

The Hobbit builds upon that foundation previously laid and shows that even the smallest can make a difference in the world. For what little Bilbo has done already, moviegoers haven’t seen yet what he is truly capable of. Even Gandalf asks himself, “Why Bilbo Baggins? Well . . . Perhaps it is because I am frightened, and he gives me courage.”

Mr. Baggins soaking in the sights of Rivendell

Mr. Baggins soaking in the sights of Rivendell

Of course, the main thing that moviegoers will have to struggle with in taking this journey back into Middle-earth is how it compares to the original story. I will tell you right now: Do not expect another Lord of the Rings epic!  Some people were sorely disappointed at the fact that The Hobbit is more whimsical and, dare I say it, “corny” as opposed to the grand, epic feel of the Rings trilogy.

In order to truly understand this film, one must know the source material. “The Hobbit” was originally written as a childrens’ tale, where characters speak in proper English fashion and have names like Oin and Dori and Nori. “The Lord of the Rings”, however, has a more grave, serious, and solemn tone that sets it apart in character from its predecessor.

Therefore, please do not go see this expecting a movie that rivals the last. The Hobbit is not meant to contend with The Lord of the Rings, it is meant to compliment it; to take us on another journey which, though slightly more comical, is nonetheless engaging and stimulating and ever-the-more breathtaking.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. “The Hobbit” being my favorite book, you can imagine my sheer delight in seeing it come to life. As clichéd as it sounds, it really was a dream come true. Cinematically, it’s a beauty to behold. Its incredibly-rich visuals and perfect attention to detail works harmoniously with each other to create a lush, palpable world that fits in perfectly with The Lord of the Rings films.

Story wise, I could not be more pleased. This is the most faithful adaption to a book I have ever seen (excepting a few scenarios that are only mentioned in the book, but are fully fleshed out in the film). Having read the book several times (three to be exact), most of the scenes I had memorized. Sitting in the theater watching Gandalf and Bilbo’s first meeting on the hobbit’s doorstep in Bag-End, or a riddle contest between Bilbo and Gollum, the scenes were so faithful to the book that I was literally talking right along with the characters as they interacted with each other. That is how faithful this movie is.

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

Martin Freeman as Bilbo is pitch-perfect. Not only does he embody Ian Holmes’ original character in body and mind, but he even adds a few quirks and quips of his own that make us laugh out loud from sheer delight. Richard Armitage as Thorin also adds great depth and gravity to the character, and Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf has never been better. The chemistry between these characters are so well-defined and work so effectively that you become sucked into the story through the tremendous amount of conflict they all go through, physically and mentally.

Though memorizing and keeping up with twelve other dwarves is daunting enough, each dwarf in the film is so unique in both appearance and character that they all feel truly distinct. There is no “they all said” in this story. Each dwarf is so well-defined.

From a technological point of view, this film is stunning. It employs every means possible to create most realistic-looking characters and scenery. Using motion capture performance, only just being used within the past decade, Peter Jackson has been able to create authentic-looking characters that used to be stunt men in prosthetic suits. This time around, CGI has replaced much of that, which could also be one of the films only downers. While the CGI was some of the best I have ever seen, I couldn’t help but feel that it was slightly over-used at times.

If you don’t mind spending the extra money to see this in 3D, I would certainly recommend it. Unlike other 3D films I have seen, which usually aren’t that impressive and tend to become annoying, The Hobbit displays some of the best in technology I’ve ever seen. Literally, it’s as if the back of the theater has been taken out and you are viewing Middle-earth through a window, rather than the annoying task of enduring things flying at  your face.  

"Mutton yesterday... Mutton today... Mutton tomorrow"

“Mutton yesterday… Mutton today… Mutton tomorrow”

This film also contains a large amount of humor—–much of which is not in the book, but is so well-written that you honestly can’t tell what is original and what is not. But what was so compelling for me is the way that The Hobbit can be light-hearted and jovial at one moment, then serious and stern at the next. It perfectly retains all the charm of the book, while adding in some conflict and drama for the sake of keeping it more consistent with The Lord of the Rings.

In a nutshell:

I could not be more pleased with this film; it really was all I could ever hope for. While it wasn’t Lord of the Rings, and I could nitpick slightly here and there, the result is a magnificent achievement—–yes, I will go so far as to regard it a near-masterpiece—–that astonishes in almost every way. But ultimately, it is what it was meant to be: good-humored fun that somehow becomes more than just a childrens’ tale in our minds. I will be eagerly returning to the theaters in one year for part 2, hungry for more.

 

9 stars

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