The Hobbit movie (part 1 — An Unexpected Journey) has finally arrived. Given my love of the three Lord of the Rings movies, I have looked forward to this day with excitement and some trepidation — could the dramatisation of this humble book possibly live up to the magnificence of LOTR? And what’s with stretching it out into three movies?
I haven’t followed all the discussion about the intended three Hobbit movies, but among my own friends there has been much doubt and cynicism. It does seem like a grab for box-office cash… after all, The Hobbit is a simple story, with none of the plot intricacies of the much longer and deeper LOTR. Assigning it the same amount of screen time seems ludicrous.
So off I went this evening to see the first movie, hoping it would justify its length with substance.
It does… and it doesn’t. The opening is marvellous. I liked the prologue, narrated by older Bilbo, which explains the origins of the quest — how Smaug came to occupy Eribor and why the dwarves want it back. And I didn’t mind the early tie-in to the beginning of the Fellowship of the Ring movie. And I loved the unexpected party of dwarves rocking up — gorging, burping, laughing, singing, the lot!
Martin Freeman is perfect as Bilbo, and the motley band of dwarves are wonderful. They’ve made them up to be far more variegated in appearance than expected… some are old, some younger, some just odd. Richard Armitage as Thorin is excellent — but he’s the only one given any depth of character. Balin has a little more depth than the others. James Nesbitt’s Bofur is fun, and Aiden Turner’s Kili is being referred to by me as ‘the hot dwarf’…
Another great scene was ‘riddles in the dark’, when Bilbo meets Gollum and finds The One Ring. That plays out very close to the book, right down to the riddles. Andy Serkis as Gollum really works his relatively short appearance in the films.
Most of the rest of the movie loosely resembles the book (as far as I can remember — it’s been about 30 years). This was, I suppose, to be expected. I don’t really have any objections to deepening what is essentially a very simple story — strengthening motivations, building in backstory here and there etc. But I’m not convinced of the merit of all the attempts to foreshadow the events in LOTR. In parts these plot deviations/insertions seem a little contrived.
On the whole I enjoyed the movie — but my expectations of Peter Jackson movies set in Middle Earth are now extremely high, so I’m taking the magnificent production design, costumes, makeup, CGI, score, cinematography etc completely for granted! Visually it is of course stunning (I saw the standard version, not the higher frame rate or 3D version).
Overall, The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey lacks the gravitas and depth of LOTR. This is understandable given the source material, but it seems to be trying to achieve a similar emotional journey — which is impossible. I think I would have liked it more if they had spent some of the ‘padding’ time giving some of the individual dwarves more character and depth — rather than mindless battles and discussions of ‘dark portent’.
As a result, I’ve come away liking the movie, but feeling as though it lacks something… It certainly doesn’t hold a candle to Fellowship of the Ring as a part 1. By the end of Fellowship, we truly cared about those characters and were completely invested in their quest. I don’t feel the same connection with The Hobbit. If they were going to stretch it to three movies, at least they could have given me that.
But it is worth seeing and I will almost certainly obtain the DVDs when they come out. And I am definitely looking forward to the next installment — probably with about the same combination of excitement and trepidation.
What about you? If you’ve seen The Hobbit part 1, what do you think?