Thoughts on The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey

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?

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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’…

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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?

 

11 comments

  1. “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’.” I couldn’t agree more! It would have been more satisfying for me if I ‘cared’ more about the characters themselves, and for that to happen we needed to know them better. Over all I liked the movie, but it left me wanting to read all the books again so I could get re-acquainted with the characters again. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. 😉

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    1. It left me wanting to revisit the Hobbit book too — which I did last night after writing this post. I was surprised how closely the movie does follow the first 6 or so chapters of the book, although they have of course inserted and extrapolated a lot to bulk it out. And unfortunately there’s very little depth of character in the book.

      The book seems to be more exposition than action. I think the underlying problem is simply that The Hobbit is a really simple story that can’t possibly match LOTR. What beats me is why they even tried…

      Although I still think they could/should have done a lot more with the characters.

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  2. No you have me intrigued (and not just by the photo of Kili). I remember the riddle scene as coming half way through the book, or even further, so if it’s already in this movie, what the heck are they going to do for the next two. Must get me to the theater and see…
    😉

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    1. Actually the riddle scene is in chapter 5… and this movie takes it through to the beginning of chapter 7. Which is just over a third of the way through (there are 19 chapters). Bottom line – 3 movies is too many.

      But it has to be seen… and not only for Kili. 😉 I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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  3. The 12 y.o. and I had just finished reading the book before going to see the movie so all of it was very fresh in our minds. I went in to it knowing there would be differences and liberties taken to extend the book into 3 movies (I still don’t understand why/how they’re going to do that) and was pleasantly surprised by how closely it seemed to stick to the first part of the book. I agree with what you said about the battle scenes – too many and too long. Overall, though, I enjoyed it a great deal. And yes, I’ll admit that some of that enjoyment had to do with watching the utterly adorable Martin Freeman as Bilbo.

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    1. Martin Freeman is fabulous as Bilbo. But he’s the only character who has any complexity, really. And how did you find dear Benedict as The Necromancer (apparently!)? Couldn’t really tell, huh?

      Having gone through the first part of the book since writing this post, I was surprised and pleased with how closely they stuck to the book — and extrapolated the merest mention of something (like the mean orc and The Necromancer) into something more complex. But… I don’t think the source material is ultimately enough for a great movie.

      I just can’t help comparing it with Fellowship of the Ring.

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  4. I was impressed how certain barely mentioned characters were given more story time and it would have been more interesting to do that with the dwarves as well like you mentioned. I really enjoyed the LOTR movies but am not as big of a fan as you are so I’m not really comparing them to The Hobbit. I can see how The Hobbit wouldn’t seem as epic as Fellowship, though.

    As for dear Benedict, he was a major tease throughout the whole dang movie, beginning with the trailer for Star Trek, then a glimpse of the Necromancer, and then the ending scene with Smaug’s eye. I’m so curious to see the next Hobbit movie since he not only did Smaug’s voice, but also did the stop-motion animation for him, too.

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    1. So he had to act like a dragon? Should be interesting…

      I’m glad you liked the movie overall. I think it’s a good movie and deserves to be appreciated. I don’t think it was ever going to live up to LOTR for me, though.

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