A Review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I have been waiting a long time to see this movie – ever since it was first announced that Peter Jackson would be doing it. I don’t think, however, that I ever expected it to turn out the way it did. Jules Bass did an animated version in only 80 minutes, so surely Jackson wouldn’t need more than two and a half hours. I was surprised, then, when Jackson announced he’d be making another film, and then a trilogy based around The Hobbit. I was also excited, because Jackson was promising that he would delve in into the Appendices for additional story.

Now, I’ve read most of Tolkien’s works, and the posthumous books published by Christopher Tolkien – including a small number of The History of Middle Earth 12-volume series and The Children of Hurin. So while I couldn’t carry a conversation in Elvish, I could discuss the history of Middle-Earth for some time. I could also talk about where Tolkien got many of his ideas, having read the Norse literature that Tolkien did. (That was a fun college class).

That being said, I think I’d need a second viewing in order to evaluate this film as its own entity. I firmly believe in judging how a film works on its own (though of course I’ll compare the strengths and weaknesses of various amendments), but the first viewing kept distracting me with canon.

Now, again, canon changes will only annoy me if I feel that they detracted from the story, or if they were unnecessary. For example, the addition of an evil orc champion pursing the company sets up a nice connection between the trilogy – though I didn’t like the identity of that orc champion, specifically because canon was consciously contradicted to include him.

Aside from canon, though, I felt that a lot in the film was determined by the fact that this trilogy is being treated as a prequel, rather than the original. This certainly affected the movie, largely in its tone. The professor who taught be about the works that influenced Tolkien stated that how Jackson treated the elves’ song as the dwarves came to Rivendell would be the ultimate signifier of the tone of the films. And he was right – because the song wasn’t included at all. In fact, out of the five songs included in The Hobbit (over the time covered by the film), only two are sung.

The dwarves are perhaps the most affected by this tone. Rather than the bumbling sidekicks who really complain about everything and who can’t handle anything except when they have Gandalf, Thorin, or Bilbo to lead them, they’re presented as a group of fearless warriors who would take on an army of orcs if they had to. (Despite my dislike for this aspect – in the book, I believe Thorin was the only dwarf who was actually armed – I did like the film for breaking the stereotype that dwarves only fight with axes). This change in character doesn’t do well for the story, since when the dwarves don’t need any help, why recruit Bilbo in the first place? They’re even confident that they don’t need Gandalf!

There were also a couple moments where it was very obvious that the writers were trying to insert a “Gandalfism”, or a “Samism”, where one of the main characters (usually Gandalf or a hobbit) says something that reveals a deep truth on life. Now, these moments by themselves aren’t bad – I’m calling them Gandalfisms and Samisms because of similar moments in The Lord of the Rings. The difference is in that in The Lord of the Rings, these moments aren’t forced, and flow naturally with the scene and the tone. Most of these Gandalfisms in The Hobbit are also not found in the book, which further worsens the message in that the quote may not line up with Tolkien’s purposes (in essence, though, they do).

The plot also takes advantage of a number of very convenient moments. Now, Bilbo was very, very lucky in The Hobbit, and Tolkien knew that one of the qualities of a hero is good luck, but several happenings in film go beyond luck to just lazy convenience.

The content from the Appendices is a different animal from the majority of the Hobbit, largely in that Tolkien never wrote what kind of conversations occurred around these subjects, like the Necromancer. Jackson tries to put the dwarves’ quest in the larger context of Middle-Earth and the power plays going on in case Sauron returns, but I didn’t feel he did it very adequately. Saruman and Elrond never give a good reason to discourage the dwarves from their quest, and Saruman drones on and on about nothing at all.

On the other hand, Radagast’s scenes in Mirkwood, and the scenes delving into Thorin’s past are great. It was nice to be reminded that Thorin, even if the others aren’t supposed to be, at least he is a mighty warrior and knows what he’s doing.

Once again, Gollum was a great character, and the riddle game was fun. And despite all the issues I have with this film, I did laugh at its jokes. While it’s tone is darker than the book, it is its own entity, and should be treated as such. And as its own film, I think it’s generally solid. The changes made to the canon were made for a reason, and it’s easy to see where all the plot points are leading for the rest of the trilogy. Again, as a canon snob, I saw largely flaws with the canon, and I would love to watch it again, not only to complete my analysis, but just because I did enjoy watching it.

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One thought on “A Review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

  1. Rob says:

    Having not read the book in a millenia or so, I cannot comment upon the canonical issues between the film and the book. However, I did note the Gandal/Sam-isms and, too, felt they were forced. There were also two scenes where Bilbo was able to justify himself to Thorin, and one came so closely on the heels of the other that it really bothered me. ***SPOILERS AHEAD****
    They’ve just escaped the goblins, everyone is wondering where Bilbo is, Thorin says (in effect) he turned tail and ran away, then Bilbo takes off the ring and steps out and explains that he is helping them because they don’t have a home. Ooh, we all get a lump in our throat. Then they are chased by the wargs and the pale orc, and Bilbo saves Thorin, and they are carried off by the eages. And once they are safe, Bilbo shows great concern for Thorin, and Thorin is grateful again. But it feels redundant; didn’t we already experience this emotion? I can’t use the same tear-soaked handkerchief twice in ten minutes. Now I’m feeling manipulated.

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