Film review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

So I finally saw
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. And I enjoyed it. And yet… I understand why some people were disappointed. I suppose I was a little disappointed myself, though that shouldn’t be taken as a thumbs down.

First of all, the good parts. Martin Freeman is a wonderful, wonderful Bilbo Baggins. I can’t imagine how the role could have been better played. Superb casting, superb job.

I liked the visuals. Some people, or so I’ve read, have trouble with the unusually high resolution in which the film was shot, but it didn’t bother me at all. As you’d expect, I saw it in 3D, and I liked that too. There were some wonderful color effects. One of my major take-aways from the whole thing was just how lovely it looked.

My reservations are complicated, and I suppose I’m still thinking it out. A lot of material has been added, in order to grow the original story, which is a pretty quick read, into a twin to The Lord of the Rings. Much of this ought to be legitimate enough for the most exacting Tolkien fan. Instead of taking things out of the story, as they had to do with the first trilogy, Jackson and people put stuff in, and the most substantial of the additions come (or so I’m told, I’ve only actually read The Silmarillion) from Tolkien’s own writings about Middle Earth.

The additions that actually bothered me (a bit) were the action additions. Every scrape and danger in the book becomes a huge, epic extravaganza, with lots of CG and gee-whiz. The first trilogy pushed the line in this regard; it seems to me this movie crosses it. You’ve got a company of 14 here, and the idea that they could all survive all these cataclysms and near misses passes credibility. The fact that you can show something doesn’t mean you should. I think they might have restrained themselves a bit. The movie is three hours long. It didn’t really need to be.

The heart of my problem, I guess, the reason why I left the theater just a tiny bit unsatisfied, was that the experience of the movie was so much different from the experience of the book. Whatever you can say in objection to the first trilogy, it always (or it did for me) achieved the same emotional impact as the novels. This Hobbit film, though very good in its way, is a somewhat different animal from the book it’s based on. Perhaps I’ll come to appreciate that when I’ve seen all three films (and you may be sure I plan to).

My intention here is not to write a negative review. I endorse The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I liked it very much, and there were parts I loved. Go see it.

It’s just a couple little things…

6 thoughts on “Film review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

  1. I agree with you. My husband went to see the movie with me, and at one point, he leaned over and said, “THey just can’t catch a break, can they?” In the book, there are lots of “breaks” that maybe don’t translate well into an action/adventure film. Still, a bit more thoughtfulness and light-hearted-ness and a tad fewer chase and danger scenes would have improved the entire movie.

    And still I loved it.

  2. I was disappointed. There was way too much imagery and action combined with way too little character development. I did like Freeman as Bilbo and Ken Stott as Balin. But Thorin was too tall to be a dwarf. He looked more like a Ranger.

    It may be because I’m unused to modern media. I live in a remote rural area out of range of any broadcast TV with a frugal budget that leaves no room for cable or satellite subscriptions. The TV we watch in my house is what we stick in the video player. Mostly that is old TV programs from my youth and older movies from the $5 DVD bin at my local big box store. As a result I’m more acclimated to slowly developing scenes with extensive character development mixed in with a bit of action.

    In contrast, the Hobbit movie jumped from scene to scene via unrelenting action sequences pinned to a vague story line. Along a thin plotline of a familiar story a crowd of anonymous characters were hurled from catastrophe to catastrophe.

    I find it ironic that, where my kids are bored by the ancient media I prefer, I was bored by this modern media portrayal. I felt like I didn’t know the characters well enough to care about them or their quest. Therefore all the action was meaningless.

  3. I saw “The Hobbit” on Thursday with my nine-year-old nephew. Although he tends to be an antsy kid, he was rapt for three hours; although he considers himself a little tough guy, he was genuinely freaked out by the trolls and was dismayed when Thorin was in peril. (And he let out a quiet “woah” when Rivendell hove into view.)

    I find Jackson’s take on Middle Earth particularly flawed when he lets characters speak in modern and decidedly non-Tolkienesque colloquialisms, but if I were to concentrate too much on his failure to meet the ideal, I might lose sight of what he’s accomplished: He’s made movies that offer, on occasion, a loftier tone and sense of awe than my little moviegoing companion is likely to encounter elsewhere in popular culture. That’s hardly the be-all and end-all, but it’s a big part of the reason why I didn’t leave the theater disappointed.

  4. I have to agree with you. First I did not even know that this was going to be a trilogy. I have read the book at least 3times and really enjoyed it. I wanted to see the movie just to see how close it was to book. At one point during the beginning of the movie I was like i don’t remember any of this. What is happening? This is almost a completely different movie. Part of me was disappointed, confused and surprised But overall it was a good movie with some cool scenes just not what I expected.

  5. I just went to see The Hobbit yesterday and it was ok. I think I was expecting more of the charm of the novel to make it on to the screen, the classic “Englishness” of the humor, but what I got instead was a sort of juvenile vulgar humor injected with the ugliness of the work of Guillermo del Toro (he makes even beautiful things ugly),the almost Disney cartoonishness of the dwarves, Radaghastly the Brown, and some dubious choices by director Peter Jackson. I really liked Martin Freeman as Bilbo–he was the best thing about the movie, however, it just seemed to me like the director’s choices for the most part went down wrong paths.

  6. We saw this through Amazon recently, and I did like it, but I didn’t love it. Did anyone notice the dramatic scene changes in the chase scene with Radagast? They are in the forest when they say they need to run. Suddenly they are out on a rocky plain.

    After a couple minutes, they make another break for it, and suddenly they are in a lightly forested area. I don’t think it would have been a problem if the camera had not given us a full view of the surrounding terrain, because after that first jump cut, you could see there wasn’t a forest for miles. That was the first time I laughed at the movie, not with it.

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