5.6.13 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Film Review, Part 4
5.6.13 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Film Review, Part 4
I’m concluding a review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (New Line Cinema, 14 Dec 2012; 19 Mar 2013 Blu-Ray/DVD release).
Most appreciated parts of the film that departed from (or aligned with) the book:
Placement of film’s story within established timeline of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy: Jackson chose to insert this film’s story within a timeline already established in his Lord of the Rings trilogy; that is, a short time before Gandalf arrives in The Fellowship of the Ring, with wagon of fireworks & Frodo awaiting him, reading a book against a tree. From the inclusion of the elder Bilbo (Ian Holm) and Frodo (Elijah Wood) that clearly links this film with Jackson’s earlier films, to the entire presentation (and elaboration) of Hobbiton and Bilbo’s world, I can already tell that this narrative approach will make for a “seamless” viewing experience when the films are completed in 2014. We’ll be able to watch both trilogies on their own merits, of course, but I believe that this attention to the world of Middle Earth that Jackson so convincingly created eleven years ago will be the definitive version of both of Tolkien’s beloved works.
Erebor’s history at the beginning of the film, rather than in a story told around the fire in Bilbo’s home: The story revealed the extent of the dwarvish kingdom, its relationship to Dale, and the greed of Thrain (with the Arkenstone featured prominently). From a storytelling perspective, this was a masterstroke: the prologue for the film trilogy built a framework for story that will be referenced continuously, and explained the situation of the dwarves who hire Bilbo as their burglar. The audience can identify with the fierce resolve of Thorin & Company to try to regain their home, and, given the dragon Smaug’s utter destruction of the kingdom and neighboring town of Dale, the catastrophically huge scale of the threat they face builds an immediate tension in the viewer.
Azog the Pale Orc, Great Goblin, Sauron (Necromancer), Radagast the Brown, the White Council. & Smaug
The inclusion and expansion of each of these elements from Tolkien’s book really makes the film worthy of being told in three parts. Where all of these characters and events appeared in the novel, they were as parts of stories, with no real life of their own.
Azog the Pale Orc: Here, instead of Tolkien’s book that describes Azog the Defiler (Manu Benett) killing Thorin’s grandfather, Thror (Jeffrey Thomas), in the Mines of Moria, we get to see the Pale Orc killing Thorin’s father, Thrain the Younger, and then spending the entirety of the movie trying to end Durin’s bloodline by pursuing Thorin and company. Not sure how Jackson’s going to resolve this potential plot hiccup, but trust him since he’s been so successful in bringing all of Tolkien’s works to life. That is, in the book, Thorin’s cousin, Dain, killed Azog & prevented the rest of the dwarves from returning to Moria because he knew about the Balrog. In the film, Dain’s mentioned by a grim-faced Thorin — who tells the dwarves that his cousin won’t be helping against the dragon — and we can be assured that we’ll be seeing Dain and his people by trilogy’s end. By having Azog as a living antagonist (in The Hobbit, he died over a century before Bilbo and the dwarves begin their quest), the film gains a villain and tension that were missing in the original novel.
The Great Goblin: The confrontation between the dwarves and the Great Goblin is faithfully reproduced from the original novel, but here Jackson & screenwriters break up the encounter with a thrilling chase through the subterranean world of the Misty Mountains. Portrayed by Barry Humphries, there’s a poignancy to this depiction of the Goblin King because it’s so impactful and so brief! When the family discussed “favorite moments and characters” during the car ride home, Humphries scored high on the list, and it’s to the film’s credit that they made such a successful translation from Tolkien’s book to the screen, while at the same time adding a depth of character that I didn’t sense in the original version.
Gollum: Far and away one of the top three favorite parts of the film, Gollum’s appearance near the end of The Hobbit made for a true climactic moment; familiar from the focus given to him in the LOTR films, Andy Serkis and Peter Jackson found a new way to present Gollum that retained the well-known personality traits, while enhancing the creature’s tragic nature. A truly remarkable performance by Serkis, and surprising that there were still things to learn about Gollum, and especially his relationship with Bilbo. In the scenes here (as with Bilbo’s confrontation with Azog), we truly get introduced to the “steel” in Bilbo that’s always present, but which sometimes takes a confrontation to evoke. In the moment of “mercy” that Bilbo shows Gollum, there’s much to be learned about both characters that will last throughout both film trilogies.
Sauron (the Necromancer): Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of this new series of Tolkien-based films is the attention given to the Necromancer, whose dark energies and allies (such as the Witch King of Angmar) are regaining strength at the abandoned citadel of Dol Guldur, a fortress in Mirkwood Forest. The fact that we finally get to see this place (and a version of the Necromancer himself) is worth the price of admission, because the Necromancer and Return of Sauron to Middle Earth are, again, only described briefly in Tolkien’s original novel. You’ll recall in the LOTR trilogy that the only aspects of Sauron the Dark Lord (the “lord of the rings”) whom we get to see is his initial armored form, then a blazing eye and warped voice. Here, finally, we get see a semi-materialization of Sauron return as the Necromancer. Besides getting more of Sauron’s backstory, wonder of wonders, there appears one the Ringwraiths, springing from a rock to attack the wizard, Radagast the Brown!
We last saw the Witch King of Angmar dying at Eowyn’s hand (“I am no man!”) in The Return of the King, so to have him here in the first installment, personally defending the returning Dark Lord was awesome! I can already tell that, along with Azog the Pale Orc and Smaug the Dragon, the villains in this series are shaping up to be as fearsome as in LOTR, and the complexity they add to The Hobbit story makes for a fantastic addition.
Radagast the Brown. Played by Sylvester McCoy (whom Doctor Who fans will know as the Seventh Doctor, 1987-1989), the entirely new scenes featuring Radagast the Brown allow the audience to connect with Middle Earth (and another “good” wizard, besides Gandalf) in a way that wasn’t possible in the previous Jackson films; oh, there were sweeping vistas and landscapes in both series, as well as the beloved Treebeard and the Ents, but McCoy’s depiction of Radagast the Brown is wholly entertaining and heartwarming. Here is a wizard so preoccupied with tending to Nature that he spends all of his time defending animals and preserving what life he can; the smeared bird droppings that run down the side of his long hair and face (from a nest under his hat!), show that the only dignity he cares about is the Fate of Middle Earth itself. It’s his discovery of the corruption of that world in the return of Sauron that traumatizes him & the audience, and sets events into motion that will affect the rest of the films. Again, in the book, we only hear about Radagast at a remove in the original novel, so the benefit of the film version is to make it clear at how important he is to stopping Sauron before he can completely return. Lastly, the attention to Radagast gives more characterization to both Gandalf and Saruman because we suddenly realize that the sorcerers are part of a group that’s about to fail in its safeguarding of Middle Earth.
The White Council: Again, only a told-about event in the original version, here we get to see Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and Saruman (Christopher Lee) try to deal with the fallout from Radagast’s trip to Dol Guldur. Although all actors are reprising their roles from the previous films, there’s a refreshing aspect to the performances in that none of them know the trouble to come. Weaving’s Elrond, particularly, seems to be more light-hearted than we saw in the LOTR, but all of the council members are stopped short by the sight of the Morgul blade that Radagast retrieved. While we catch glimpses of Saruman’s future descent into darkness, here the reader is given insight into the larger world that Gandalf and the others are trying to defend by the time the One Ring is found.
Smaug the Dragon: While Smaug appears only occasionally in this film (in flashes of wing, fire, and swooping body), we know that he’ll be the main antagonist in next year’s segment, and voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. Very much looking forward to this confrontation, especially as it reunites Cumberbatch with Martin Freeman (Bilbo). They’ve both done a superb job as, respectively, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in the BBC tv series, Sherlock, so this should be a brilliant moment for fans of both The Hobbit and Sherlock!
Okay, that’s it for now: will probably do a concluding series of reviews for the rest of this film when the “special edition/extended version” is released in August or September.
After spending five months finishing up The Codex Lacrimae, Part II: The Book of Tears, it’s back to a regular blogging schedule, as well as more film & television reviews (upcoming summer blockbusters such as Iron Man 3, and recent seasons of Doctor Who & Sherlock being first on list)!
Thanks for stopping by, and look for news tomorrow on the status of The Codex Lacrimae, Part II!
note: For those who want more comprehensive critiques of the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, here’s a list of the remaining online reviews I thought worth reading:
Jonathan Kim’s review at huffingtonpost.com: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
Camille Mann’s review at cbsnews.com: http://www.cbsnews.com/
Rick Marshall’s review at ifc.com: http://www.ifc.com/
Bob Mondello’s review at npr.com: http://www.npr.org/2012/12/13/
A.O. Scott’s review at nytimes.com: http://movies.nytimes.com/
Peter Travers’s review at rollingstone.com: http://www.rollingstone.com/