Movie Reviews: The Hobbit (An Unexpected Journey)

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Prequel directed by Peter Jackson

I am what you consider a “Weta Works” snob. I loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was such a superfan I saw all three movies opening weekend, and waited the extra months until the “Expanded Special Edition” was released. I went to Walmart the first day and chatted up with the employee in the electronics section who had to remove the security device.

Walmart Worker: So, you must have really liked the movie.
Me: Yep.
Walmart Worker: (scanning it) Wow, $29.99. You know we have the other one on sale for $7.99
Me: No. This has bonus features.
Walmart Worker: Cool man. Like what?
Me: An extra half hour.
Walmart Worker: (Maybe doing the extra-price-per-minute calculation in his head) You must really want to see it all.
Me: Yep. Plus there are documentaries.
Walmart Worker: What’s a documentary?
Me: Behind the scenes stuff.
Walmart Worker: (Doing simple math in his head). Oh. Ok.

I drove home and grabbed a pizza, a case of beer, and was ready for a long night. Like a true nerd, I opened the DVD box and inserted discs and flipped to the documentaries. To me, watching the 6 hours of the “making of” featureless was almost as engrossing as the Fellowship of the Ring. I mean, the dedication Peter Jackson to get the movie made, not in one movie, but in three movies was a demonstration of artistic guts. I discovered he had built a model of Helms Deep to practice the diagramming the sequence. They built Hobbiton. How do you get the right look and feel of the film? Fuck, let’s just hire the two foremost illustrators of Tolkien and fly them to New Zealand.

It was brilliant. I enjoyed it all.

Then there were lawsuits over “profits.”

To leave no dollar on the table, “The Hobbit” was greenlit. Then Peter Jackson eventually took the reigns again. Then, somehow, there was an announcement that it would be two movies despite being one book. I scratched my head, but understood they figured it was a way to make some extra cash. Maybe add some stuff from the appendices. I trusted Jackson.

Then there was an announcement there would be three films. What?

The studio dwarf’s quest for LOTR Fan gold was alive and well. I was ready to see it opening weekend. I watched all the sneak previews that Jackson put out. I love all that behind the scenes make-up shit. Add some prosthetics here and some fake hair there, and boom, you had a dwarf. Then the reviews came in.

Simulated Twitter Comments:

“I fell asleep while they were eating in Bilbo’s house.”

“It was too long.”

“Nothing happened.”

“Jackson is a greedy motherfucker.”

Wow. I usually didn’t pay attention to reviews at the time, but one of my closer friends posted something on FB showing their excitement before seeing it, and then their reaction after. They looked like someone with their heart ripped out.

I had seen this look before.

It was me, looking in the mirror in 1999 after watching the Phantom Menace. Fuck. I didn’t want this movie to destroy my love for the LOTR. I boycotted it.

The boycott lasted 2 years when the final film came out, and people telling me that yes, the first one sucked, but it got better eventually. So I downloaded it on HBO on demand and watched it and everything I feared was true. It was a pile of boring garbage that made a story out of nothing and made me care about nobody. If it wasn’t for Gandalf, the whole movie is unwatchable. I mean, it was true; Aliens in Independence Day took over the planet in the time it took for Bilbo and the dwarfs to finally leave Hobbiton.

The movie was so bad, as a die hard LOTR fan, I couldn’t take the equivalent of “Attack of the Clones” as a follow up, and refused to watch the rest for at least a year. The first one disappointed me that much.

It was a prequel we all wanted, but didn’t expect to be so horrifically boring and an obvious grab for money.

ADRIAN JONKLAAS

Right off the bat, I want to make it clear that I am a huge fan of all of Tolkien’s written works related to the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) cycle. Yes, I’ve read the “Silmarillion” and even “The Book of Lost Tales”. But the magic started when my 5th-grade teacher, Mrs. Riegel, read The Hobbit to our class waaaay back in 1987. We were enthralled and spellbound as Bilbo was co-opted on the mission to reclaim the dwarves’ home by Gandalf the wizard. Each chapter introduced new creatures, new parts of Middle Earth and new adventures. Through each, the affable hobbit is transformed from someone who only thinks about the food in his larder to someone with true ingenuity, grit, and spine who cares deeply about his friends.

Needless to say, when it was announced that Peter Jackson would follow up his brilliant LOTR trilogy with The Hobbit I was thrilled. Immediately, I was taken back to my childhood, looked forward to reliving Bilbo’s journey once again.
Unfortunately, following the end of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey I was left with mixed feelings and a fair amount of bitterness that Peter Jackson had tainted this idyllic memory of mine by making a bloated big budget blockbuster instead of an enchanting hero’s story focused on the character development of Bilbo. 

My biggest beefs:

·        The movie takes too long to get going; overall, at 2 hours 49 minutes running time the movie is at least 49 minutes too long and its pacing suffers as a result.
·        The movie suffers from an identity crisis: its PG rating means that some scenes seem like the movie is made for children (e.g. the cartoonish, roller coaster simulation like escape from the goblin lair; the goofy Radagast the Brown) while other scenes are very dark and scary; my sister-in-law’s preteens whom I watched the movie with were horrified when Azog cut off the head of Thrór, Thorin’s grandfather, outside the mines of Moria. I would have preferred if the overall tone was darkened up a bit and Jackson shot for a PG 13 rating or a 14A rating (in Canada) similar to the LOTR movies.
·        Apart from Thorin and Balin (the oldest, wisest dwarf, who fills Bilbo in on the history of Thorin and Azog); the other dwarves, including Kili, are not memorable. I challenge you to picture the faces of Ori, Nori or Dori.
·        The fight with the Great Goblin could have been more interesting; this was a missed opportunity. I actually enjoyed the fleshy depiction of the Great Goblin, especially his reaction to the deadly elven blades, Orcrist the Goblin Cleaver, and Glamdring the Foe Hammer. Too bad Gandalf effectively defeats the Great Goblin with one swipe of Glamdring across his corpulent belly.
·        The Morgul blade that Radagast the Brown recovers from Dol Guldur and gives to Gandalf to present before the White Council looks like a blunt, rusted prop you could pick up from a second-hand prop shop (if there are such shops!). Come on, this is the blade of one of the nine undead kings enslaved by Sauron; it may even be a blade belonging to the Witch King of Angmar, the head of the nine. Make it look cooler, please…
·        Bilbo rushing forward to attack the warg rider while the other dwarves stay back watching their leader (Thorin) about to be killed by their sworn enemy (Azog) is improbable…
·        The balance in the fighting prowess of the characters is unrealistic at times e.g. the party is chased by a few wargs and riders as they flee to Rivendell; there are 13 dwarves and Gandalf for God’s sake! Stand, fight and kill the nasty beasties; retrospectively, after the third Hobbit movie, we know these characters can kill dozens of orcs and goblins at a time by themselves.
·        The fight between the two mountainous stone giants was ridiculous; the way the giants are depicted, if I was Sauron I would be trying to recruit one of these humongous giants, literally the size of a mountain, to fight for me ahead of Smaug; the fight should have been left to the imagination with just some boulders crashing down from the mountain; this is one of the many examples of pure CGI eye-candy being included in the movie simply for the sake of it, ruining the story.
·        The movie is too CGI heavy; another example is the over-the-top depiction of Thrór’s Kingdom under the Lonely Mountain, Erebor. The scale of the mining operation, the piles of gold filling up volumes equivalent to several Freedom Towers is a bit too much. Ok, I get that Peter Jackson owns Weta Digital in New Zealand and he is effectively paying himself by keeping the digital visual effects studio busy, but this was too much! Again, the entire escape from the goblin lair was mindless CGI action.
·        The movie should have been tightened up, shortened, kept at two films; Azog could have been ditched entirely. I probably would keep the Dol Guldur bit just because it’s so cool to see Sauron in his Necromancer guise J

What I liked:
·        I can watch Ian McKellan as Gandalf all day. Ditto for Kate Blanchett as Galadriel. 
·        Martin Freeman as Bilbo does a fine job.
·        Underhill is depicted exactly how I imagined Bilbo’s hobbit hole; a hobbit sized, semi-buried, English country house.
·        Watching the exasperation on Martin Freeman’s face as the dwarves raid Bilbo’s pantry and devour anything and everything made me laugh.
·        The “Misty Mountains” song the dwarves sing is pretty poignant.
·        Including the meeting of the White Council is important for perspective; it gives the audience the big picture; this is much more than a quest to get the dwarves back their home; Gandalf suspects their ancient foe Sauron may be back…and if so, inserting the dwarves back in their home while getting rid of the dragon is a strategic move that will help protect the north of Middle Earth from Sauron’s clasp.
·        Sauron in his Necromancer guise J

CHECK OUT ADRIAN’S MOVIE REVIEW PAGE

CHECK OUT MY MOVIE REVIEW PAGE

13 thoughts on “Movie Reviews: The Hobbit (An Unexpected Journey)

  1. This was well written! I almost feel glad I’m not a LOTR fan so I didn’t have to relive the prequel pain I got from Star Wars. Have you seen the other two yet? Your friends say they got better but I’ve heard it only gets worse.

    If you’re interested btw I have a movie review blog as well, at https://cookiesandopinions.wordpress.com/. My first review was Civil War, though I’m not a Marvel fan either. More a sci-fi kinda guy 🙂

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    • Cool man, I’ll check it out. Yes, I have seen the other two, which will be out in the next couple weeks as Adrian and I complete our reviews. You are right in that everyone has an opinion, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I will agree.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I totally agree with everything written here. I (being 12, BTW,) saw the Hobbit first. The movie was way too CGI heavy, like you said. And it just kinda dragged the whole way through. I kept in my head saying, okay, okay, I’m ready to move on, come on guys. One of my biggest beefs was with Legolas and Tauriel. They made Legolas so uptight and tense, which I despised. And they added a whole new character! It made me pretty angry, and I hadn’t even seen the LOTR yet! Now, I still liked it, for sure, but Peter could’ve taken more time with it, and it would’ve been better. But the LOTR, is a whole different story! The bad guys are cool, and not completely CGI, and the whole thing is so much more enticing than The Hobbit.
    So yeah, I completely agree. But I’m sorry I made this so long! Lol.

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    • Thanks for the comments. Yes, I think Peter was forced by the studio to make it longer than it should have to make more money (Same thing with Mockingjay part 1 and 2). If this would have been one film, then I think it would have been a tighter film and more true to the book. LOTR though is a pretty awesome trilogy, so maybe part of this is watching those first and being let down by what they did here.

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      • Yeah, he probably was forced to by the studio to make 3 films. But I think they wanted to have 2 rounds of three films if that makes any sense. And the last thing you said is true too. But I’ve heard quote a few people say they enjoyed the hobbit more than the LotR. But I wish they’d done more with Bilbo. It felt a lot like “Thorin’s movie.” and the CGI made the whole thing feel a little like a joke. But in the lord of the rings, I was doing double takes because the CGI looked really good! Or better, in this case.

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      • I think they seemed to use more practical effects in LOTR, so it seemed more real, plus it benefited from more humans. Strider kind of launched the movie with some weight I think. Maybe the Hobbit had to spend too much time explaining and distinguishing each dwarf, when in the end, it didn’t really matter because Bilbo was the central character.

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      • I think so too. I don’t even know half the names of the dwarves, and I’m a huge Tolkien fan. You don’t even hear some of them speak in the movie! Yes, and Strider helped a lot. He was the character that made you think like, “Okay, the movie is getting serious now.”
        I really hate Denethor, too. If I had to pick a character I hated most, it’d probably be him. Lol. He was just so crazy and cruel to Faramir. But the actor did a great job portraying him, at least in my opinion. But I’m also glad they put him in the movie.

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      • Also, the Orc wasn’t even in the book. He was basically the evil guy in Gears of War, used to give some sort of identity to the enemy early on, as if he was scary.

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      • Yes, you’re totally right. And I also read in a Tolkien book that Bolg wasn’t supposed to be killed by Legolas, (who also wasn’t supposed to be in the movie or book) but was supposed to be killed by Beorn. And Azog was supposed to be killed by Dain Ironfoot.

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      • Just wait 10-15 years before Simarillion is made into a film. As long as the box office holds true, the stories will continue to be mined. The stories begin to go off copyright in 2043, so 27 years from now there will be a bunch of copycat movies and books, like we have with Peter Pan now. There is only so much time left to exploit the works of Tolkien.

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      • They should make a Silmarillion movie. But with more Lord of the Rings quality. Its sad that they will eventually go off copyright. Partly because of the fact that there will be copycats just throwing together movies that may very well make it to the box office. But Peter Jackson could, I guess, be done making Tolkien films.

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      • There are many other fantasy films to make. Robert Jordan and David Eddings books come to mind. Anne McCaffrey wrote the original big dragon novels, and with GoT popular, maybe that can be revisited.

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      • I’m not too familiar with those, but I’m sure the world of film will be welcoming much more fantasy films in the near future.

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