Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey review

*Warning - Spoilers for the book*

    Am I alone in thinking this movie was terrible?

    I didn't get to see this in theaters because I was hoping to see it with my wife but we both fell sick when the other was ready. However, on DVD, this was just disappointing on every conceivable level. The production values are fine, the storytelling is okay, but the changes from the book aren't only unnecessary but tone-shifting. The finished product is diminished as a result of them. As a movie, The Hobbit is okay but as an adaptation it's awful. Part of the issue is the removal of the heart of the story. Peter Jackson seems to forget it's a parody.

    Definition of PARODY
    1: a literary or musical work in which the style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule

    Contrary to what many people realize, fantasy existed before J.R.R. Tolkien. Certainly, he codified a lot of what we take for granted in the genre but that doesn't mean it wasn't possible for him to poke fun at ideas inherent in epic fiction. The Hobbit is the story of a middle-aged English busybody getting caught up in an adventure well beyond his understanding.

    That, at least, is maintained. However, the movie  ejects the next most important part of the plot: no one else is very good at it either. The character of Thorin Oakenshield is a buffoon who dreams of being a great king. The dwarves are coalminers on a treasure hunt. Gandalf, alone, is the kind of character who exists truly in the epic world of heroes they're traveling through.

The parts at Bilbo's house were about note-perfect, I should say.
     Ultimately, the book is a love-letter to rural English life. Bilbo Baggins goes on an adventure, is the better man for it, and is part of great things but virtually every heroic trope possible is subverted. I hesitate to spoil it for those two or three people who haven't read the book but Bilbo and the Dwarves accomplish nothing! They don't kill Smaug! All they do is rill it up and get a bunch of Laketown people killed! The entire Battle of Five Armies is a satire of how Europe is willing to get a bunch of innocent people killed over naked gain! Only coincidence (and Bilbo) saves it from being a meaningless bloodbath.


    The 2012 movie tries desperately to be as heroic and uplifting as The Lord of the Rings. Thorin Oakenshield is a transparent stand-in for Aragorn, the specter of Sauron hangs over everything, and the naked greed of the dwarves is replaced with a more noble need for a homeland. By attempting to make the story more noble, it diminishes the tale because it's all about a bunch of people acting like they're on a noble quest when it's really not. It's a treasure hunt and nothing more, which is part of the fun.

Any parts with this guy? Not so much.
    Anyway, time to get on with the actual movie review part of the story. We all know the story: Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, dwarves, Smaug, and Gollum. This is only the first third of the story, however, getting up to the part where they kill the Great Goblin. To fill up the time, we have a posthumous character in Azog the White Orc. He pursues Thorin tirelessly, adding tension to the story which doesn't really build to anything because Azog has no motivations other than, "Kill dwarves." The orc villains in The Lord of the Rings films were placeholders for Saruman and Sauron, respectively, while Azog's one-dimensionality is solely for itself.

    The acting in the movie is well done, the special effects were fine, and the inclusion of Sylvester McCoy (my favorite Doctor) was a welcome treat. It's nice to see Christopher Lee's Saruman before he became corrupted by the Palantir. In the books he's already turned to evil by this time but I was able to make a mental divorce here I wasn't able to in other places. Gollum, of course, was wonderful and Andy Serkiss was robbed at the Oscars but no surprise there.

    As a successor to The Lord of the Rings, the movie feels off with its uneven pacing between big dramatic moments and slapstick comedy. The movie likewise drags in a few places. Despite this, it wasn't a bad film. I just think it was a terrible The Hobbit. The production values are excellent in the movie and what parts taken from Tolkien and allowed to play out on screen are wonderful. It's just that they don't flow well together at all.

    Your mileage may vary.


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