The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Untitled-1To view The Hobbit as a whole movie, and as a good movie, you must remember one thing: It is not The Lord Of The Rings. And it has no intention of being like it. It is completely different. Its story isn’t dark and full of terror; Middle Earth is not yet overrun by the evilness of Sauron and Saruman. It is adapted from a children’s novel where the hero is no bigger than a little person, and his goal is not to save the world, but to reclaim a gold-filled city from a greedy dragon.

The hard-to-pronounce names — Meriadoc, Peregrin, Eomer, Eowyn — have been replaced by cutesy names like Fili, Kili, Dori, Bombur, and of course, Bilbo. The number of characters has been downsized to make following them much easier. There are thirteen Dwarves, but we only ever hear maybe half of them talking. The rest are fillers, to make up the numbers and maybe kill a goblin or two. The entire story revolves around Bilbo and these Dwarves, and it unfolds in a linear chronology that differs from its much darker, more subplot-heavy, predecessors. They are the only characters we need to care about, and their quest is the only one that matters. Nothing else does. This makes The Hobbit a far simpler movie.

Quite frankly, simpler is better. Or at least it can be better. We have had our share of convoluted and heavy stories about evil Rings and treacherous landscapes. It’s time for pure entertainment, and that’s what The Hobbit offers, in bunches. All the fight scenes we love are back; the wargs, the orcs, the goblins and the caves, the sword fights, the giant eagles. Familiar locations and characters return too — Rivendell, The Shire, Galadriel, Elrond, Saruman. Combined, they give us entertainment that is reminiscent of the LOTR trilogy without trying too hard to emulate it. It builds upon the Middle Earth that we’ve come to treasure and then branches off into new territory. The story is connected to the story of LOTR by location and sentiment, not by plot. And that’s key.

Bilbo is the main Hobbit this time. He is played at first by a very old Ian Holm who has joined the “I’ve gotten younger by computer effects” club, and then by Martin Freeman for pretty much the rest of the movie. Freeman is a wonder. He is lovable with a bit of a twitch, and there is bravery and a sense of adventure in his eye and in his step, even though he will readily deny it. The story involves him getting roped into a massive siege organised by Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Thorin (Richard Armitage), leader of the Dwarves, that requires him to accompany them on their quest to take back their home (the gold-ridden city I mentioned earlier). This would be perfect if Bilbo wasn’t the type to stay at home and look after his tea set instead of prancing around outside, enjoying the fresh air. He is, eventually, coaxed into accepting the offer, and soon he will be facing creatures that only existed in his Hobbitworld folklore.

And that’s it. That’s the bulk of the movie explained right there. To watch the rest would be to take yourself on a journey — an expected journey — back across Middle Earth. The story, of course, doesn’t end in this movie, because there are still two more sequels to come, so telling you what happens in this one would be redundant. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know the gist, but Peter Jackson and his writing team — made up of LOTR and King Kong veterans Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh — have taken so many liberties with the source material that many areas of the story will seem unfamiliar to casual fans. Some characters are given more screen time than they would ever need, and others are bestowed the privilege of having lines of dialogue where they were only mentioned in passing in the novel. I don’t necessarily have any complaints about this, but I am concerned about the team’s plan to stretch a thin children’s book into three lengthy epics. How can there be enough material? “We’ll steal bits and pieces from the book’s appendices!” Jackson says. All right. Do that. Prove me wrong; reassure my worried heart.

I have been a diehard fan of the LOTR trilogy for years now, and I was excited when news of “The Hobbit” being made into a movie was announced. Has it disappointed me? Not in the slightest. It is nostalgic and new all at the same time. Its characters are likable and engaging; its story is straight forward and without complexity. In this way, it’s the LOTR’s perfect counterpart. Am I anxious for parts two and three? I suppose I am, but as long as they don’t turn out to be copies of Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith, I’ll be content.

Best Moment | Hearing the Elven-chorus sing away at the revealing of Rivendell. Boy did that bring back memories.

Worst Moment | It might just have to be Radagast freaking out about the Necromancer, pulling a stick insect out of his mouth, and going cross-eyed on a whiff of Old Toby. It all feels rather disjointed.

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