in Review

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I really liked Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies. I was someone who did not really get into the books, and those movies came out at the perfect time for me to get really into them. But this whole Hobbit movie thing has always seemed like a bad idea. In part because I know how the prequel thing went for Star Wars, another beloved trilogy, and also because that was such a huge step for Jackson as a director, and I wanted him to go out there and do new things. I think he wanted to do something else too, but eventually he yielded to the call of the ring and returned, not for one prequel, but an entire prequel trilogy.

This makes very little sense, since The Hobbit is a shorter book than any of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Honestly, it probably happened because Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games already got away with it. But this stretching out of adaptations is quickly becoming a real annoyance, and I hope this trend dies soon. A movie is a chance to change and enhance a story for a different medium, not literally depict every single page. Or, in the case of this movie, every single page, plus a bunch of stuff from The Return of the King‘s appendices, The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and anything else tangentially related.

But here’s the thing, I still really like this material. The book of The Hobbit does not have any of the weight that the later books does. After all, that was a quest to save the world, this is a quest to reclaim a mountain full of treasure. It was only in retrospect that author J.R.R. Tolkien embellished the connection between the two stories. Jackson has the luxury of that knowledge, and embellishes that which was only hinted at to make this not only the story of Bilbo’s adventure, but of Gandalf and a few other familiar faces coming to recognize the threat of Sauron’s return.

Of course, that’s only where I think it’s going. Once again, this is only the first third of the story. If you’re not the kind of person who, for example, liked the extended editions, you’ll probably find this tedious. Singing and eating, extended flashbacks, a long vacation in Rivendell, these are all aspects of the movie to either look forward to or dread sitting though. Much of the action of The Hobbit book is saved for the two sequels, although you can at least look forward to a lengthy, wonderful version of the most famous chapter, “Riddles in the Dark.”

Andy Serkis’ Gollum looks really great here, a reminder that he was the first great entirely CG character when he appeared in The Two Towers a decade ago. Martin Freeman, a man who I am always a fan of, steps ably into Ian Holm’s hairy feet, bringing his trademark affability to ground the fantasy adventure. Ian McKellen is back as Gandalf and damn it, he’s still a champion in this role. As for the dwarves, there’s a lot of them. One thing you can say for this style of adapting a book: I never could remember most of the dwarves names in the book. I feel like I’ve got a shot by the time the third movie rolls around.

So that’s An Unexpected Journey. I hate to say it’s for fans only, but I kind of think it is. I tell you, I never planned on this being a saga I wanted to go on, but I guess I’m willing to take it. I guess you could say it’s an unexpected journey for all of us. You see what I did there?

[box type=”info”]Note: As much as it amuses me that people are using the same language describing The Hobbit‘s 48 fps presentation as I used to describe the weird motion interpolation effect on Nancy’s TV, I still want to give it a shot. Because despite it possibly looking like a British sitcom or a daytime soap opera, I think it’s an interesting new technology. I look at video games all the time at 60 fps and it doesn’t bother me, although I guess video games aren’t trying to look real, like a movie does. Regardless, I saw the film at 24 fps in 2D, so I really cannot comment on how successful or not those technologies are used.[/box]