Wednesday 2 January 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 3D

Kicking The Hobbit

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 3D
New Zealand/USA 2012
Directed by Peter Jackson
Playing at cinemas now.

Warning: I quite like the works of one J. R. R. Tolkien... 
so you might not like this review!

Sigh. I expect this will be a fairly short review.

I’d be more angry at this travesty but I just can’t summon the strength after Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy annoyed me so much with the amount of stupid omissions and additions... not to mention the predictability of the master shots and close-ups within the edit (fortunately, this movie doesn’t quite suffer from those two symptoms nearly as much as its predecessors did).

There are some very good things about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 3D and, in fairness to the director and production team, I’ll try to list as many of those things as I can... but I’m afraid this one played out as my worst fears for the project.

It’s a hard thing for me to write because I love movies so much and this “version” of The Hobbit is certainly a great piece of cinema. It’s exactly the kind of spectacle and feeling of epic fantasy which cinema was made for... and it’s competently handled and, I feel, will please a lot of movie goers. However, there is also a sense of betrayal and disrespect for the original works which leaves me with worse than mixed feelings about it.

I’m not the biggest Tolkien fan but I did like his books, The Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings (the latter of which I read in the 70s when it was right and proper that it was all published and read as a single volume and not split into three separately bound volumes, like is fashionable again these days) and found them to be good. I also remember Bernard Cribbins reading The Hobbit on TV in the 1980s on the BBC programme Jackanory (those were the days) and scratching many a furrowed brow at the ZX Spectrum game of the book, which I never did manage to complete.

Perhaps this is why I’m so “let down” with these new movie versions of the books, which I feel do not respect Tolkien’s original material as much as they should and are, mostly, poor adaptations. Goodish movies... but just generally bad versions of the source.

Here’s what’s good about this latest...

Great spectacle, competently put together and competently edited (as I said before). There are also some great performances, including an absolutely brilliant, own the role, turn from Martin Freeman as young(er) Bilbo and he seems to have great chemistry with Ian McKellen, who is obviously relishing his return to Gandalf The Grey.

There’s a brilliant performance by Sylvester McCoy (the Seventh Doctor) who gives a real sense of impish wizardry as Radagast The Brown but... you know... that character’s NOT IN THE BLOODY BOOK! Also a “nice to see him again” cameo scene from the great Christopher Lee, back as Saruman The White who... well you know... ISN’T IN THE HOBBIT YOU IDIOTS! Also good to see Cate Blanchett, one of the absolute finest and versatile actresses of her generation, reprising her role as the stunningly sensual Galadriel... that’d be, if memory serves, the same Galadriel who WASN’T IN THE ORIGINAL NOVEL! And it’s even got more dramatic weight for the character of Thorin Oakenshield as he faces down the orc who killed his father... who I think merited ONE LINE IN FLASHBACK in the book and wasn’t mentioned again.

What’s going on?

Well, let’s have a think here. Lord Of The Rings made loads of money and each film was three hours or a little more. The studios want a long trilogy they can make the same kind of tentpole money from.

The current edition of The Hobbit on sale is a short book numbering approximately 400 pages. Whereas Lord Of The Rings currently flags up 1664 pages (it always was a thick book).

And yet The Hobbit is being turned into a trilogy totalling almost nine hours in it’s first release cut... so you do the math here. It doesn’t take too much to figure out that this movie is going to be padded out to kingdom come... and padded out it is.

Jackson has tried to tie the whole thing to his earlier trilogy, when no extra adhesive was needed other than what was already on the written page. Honestly. Rock giant fights and troll battles! Clever scenes have been turned into action scenes for the sake of giving a young audience something to gawp at... it may be good cinema but it’s hardly Tolkien. He’s even got Ian Holm back as “old Bilbo” and Elijah Wood back as Frodo to give audience recognition. What rubbish!

Granted, some of the characters and incidents are sourced from other works by Tolkien but... let them stay where they were... what we have here is a greatest hits compilation but remixed with extra beats, bells and whistles which were, frankly, not needed and are certainly not welcome.

The one saving grace of this movie, like the original trilogy, is that Howard Shore is back on scoring duties. He’s tied up a lot of the leitmotif in this one by reusing thematic material (such as his steal... err... homage to Dvorak’s New World Symphony) or by retrofitting the music so it gives a more simplistic version of a theme which will grow and mutate (backwards) into the main melody lines used in Lord Of The Rings (such as Elmer Bernstein’s bandit theme from The Magnificent Seven... err... I mean, oh heck, if you know these scores you know exactly what I mean). His music is, though, absolutely fantastic and the main reason I’ll probably be going to see the next two installments (and forcing myself to write reviews of them). So if you like good music... that’s a reason to bother seeing this film.

Anyway, I think I’m about done here. All in all, I’d say I enjoyed The Hobbit a fair bit more than Jackson’s raping... err... interpretation of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy so I have to give it points for that. I think if you’re purely looking for some spectacular cinematic distraction from this movie then you’ll probably be in luck. However, I would warn all fans of Tolkien to beware... this is really going to annoy and irritate the heck out of you. A few well chosen references and basic plot points do not, a Tolkien movie, make!


  1. Really enjoyed this review! It's interesting hearing from someone that knows a lot about Tolkien. Having read all the novels just the once, I forget when watching the Hobbit that some characters didn't feature in the original source material. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, probably the action sequences the most (whilst in the book, Bilbo and Gandalf together are my favourite parts). I loved the scene with the rocks colliding/fighting.

    I can't say I'm speechless for the next instalment, yet I'll certainly go and see it!

    1. HI BlahJoe,

      Thanks for reading.

      Yeah, I was torn between seeing a fast paced action flick and what is, ultimately, a bad adaptation of what it purports to be.

      Again, thanks for reading and especially for taking the time to comment.

      All the best.

  2. I agree with most but would also need to add the length and padding you speak of is immense. The collecting of the 13 in bagend was tortuous! I pray the last 2 are filled with non book action rather than book centric padding.

    1. Hi Justin,

      Yeah, that scene kinda descended into something very un-Tolien like in tone, didn't it?

      Thanks so much for reading and leaving a comment. See you on twitter.

  3. Hi,
    Good review, from a person who has read the books and understands how they should have been adapted I guess The Hobbit should have been the single film minus the extra characters.
    Still it won't stop the legions of fans going to see this film and the follow ups.
    I know a friend of mine who completed the 'ZX Spectrum game of the book', took him a very long while.
    Like you comment on doing the math, very USA of you............

    Thanks again for your review

    Keep up the good work