12.20.12 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Film Review, Pt 2
Completely weak and still sick from a bout with the flu, my family and I were seated at the theater for the opening Saturday matinee of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure. Then, I gasped, which made me cough, which made me almost miss a precious second of the beautiful imagery unfolding in front of me, and finally I just started grinning.
No, freakin’ way, I thought. He’s going immediately to the most important part of the story, hanging the entire series of films on the goal of the dwarves’ quest so the audience will never forget it, no matter how many hours of storytelling come between this moment and the end of the trilogy. Jackson’s opening this thing with the dwarf kingdom of Erebor and the Lonely Mountain.
I glanced in pleasure at my daughter, son, & wife, but they were completely mesmerized by the action-filled sights before them, and I then sat back to enjoy the ride.
I was still astonished, though, and questions kept pushing through what I was watching on the three-story screen. Where was old Bilbo reading “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit…” line that I’d been expecting the story to open with? Where was the scene of Hobbiton and Bilbo’s hobbit hole as the story should have properly begun with? I don’t know if I’d been expecting an approach similar to that cartoon adaptation of Tolkien’s work from 1978, Rankin-Bass’s The Hobbit, but I was tempted to clean my glasses to make sure what I was seeing was truly happening. As he’d done with The Lord of the Rings, it appeared as if Peter Jackson was going to make his own version of Tolkien’s work that completely honored the original, while bringing a uniquely fresh approach to the tale.
Departure from book: Erebor’s history at the beginning of the film, rather than in a story told around the fire in Bilbo’s home. The movie opens with a bang, with Bilbo in a voice-over telling the tale of the dwarvish Kingdom of Erebor, and how that realm gets lost to the dragon, Smaug. You instantly know that this film isn’t going to be a chapter-by-chapter retelling of Tolkien’s book, but, instead, an imaginative adaptation that’s going to keep us on the edge of our seats as we get to experience Middle Earth in a whole new way. There are dwarves everywhere, and (unlike the abandoned grandeur of Moria we saw in The Fellowship of the Ring), here we see the true extent of a dwarvish kingdom in its full glory, that realm’s relationship to the neighboring town of Dale, and, most importantly, the greed of Thrain (with the Arkenstone featured prominently).
From a storytelling perspective, this was a masterstroke: this new “prologue” for The Hobbit film trilogy builds a framework for the story that will be referenced continuously, and instantly explains the dire situation of the dwarves who hire Bilbo as their burglar.
This kind of moment is why films are so different from books, and why you really have to judge each on its own merits. In the novel, the reader (along with Bilbo) learns of Erebor’s fall after a chaotic dinner scene and Gandalf & the dwarves are sitting around the fire, telling the hobbit their story. In the film, however, we don’t have to wait for them to “tell us” their grief because we’ve already seen what they’ve lost. In an unforgettable way, the audience sees the glory and destruction of the dwarves within a few heart-stopping moments.
I got a chill (not from the flu) when I saw Smaug the Dragon’s utter destruction of the dwarf kingdom and neighboring town, and the entire audience got a bird’s eye view of the catastrophically huge scale of the threat that our heroes would be facing in the upcoming adventure. You actually feel as if you were part of the devastation that fell upon the Lonely Mountain and Dale, and so can truly identify with the fierce resolve of Thorin & Company as they try and regain their home!
Next time: An Unexpected Party…