Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I wanted to call this entry An Unexpected Pleasure but I googled that term and saw that several others had thought of it before I did. I was really very pleasantly surprised by the movie and would recommend it to anyone except the very pickiest of the picky. Now, I am a card-carrying member of the pickiest of the picky, and I really like the movie anyway. There were a few puerile scenes and few things one could complain about, but too few to mention when for the most part it was so enjoyable. The scenery was, of course, wonderful, and Martin Freeman was great as Bilbo Baggins. I was a bit unhappy, though, when I realized that the reason I think he really looks the part is because he so closely resembles the character in the dreadful 1977 animated movie. What he doesn't very much resemble is the picture on the left. 

I had almost decided not to see the film, but then it occurred to me that The Hobbit isn't like Lord of the Rings or The Narnia Chronicles. It doesn't have a lot of underlying meaning for a director to mess up, and it's not something to which I'm deeply emotionally attached. It's just a great story. So, I knew that unless Peter Jackson just changed the story in a way that made it completely unrecognizable, I wouldn't hate it, and as far as I can tell, he didn't change much, although he probably changed enough to irk the aforementioned pickers. Of course, it's been many years since I read The Hobbit, so maybe I would have been more irked. I don't think so, though. 

So, go see it! I'll be interested to hear what you have to say.

AMDG

Update: I meant to say this last night, but forgot. My biggest complaint about Lord of the Rings, and I had many, was the way that Aragorn was portrayed. It was almost like that false, post Vatican II image of Jesus that you come across--unaware of Who He was, self-doubting, weak.  After watching The Hobbit, one of the things I left thinking was that if Richard Armitage, who plays Thorin Oakenshield, had played Aragorn, I might not dislike Lord of the Rings so much--of course, he doesn't look like a dwarf.

43 comments:

  1. Well, this is heartening to hear! I had almost decided not to see it in the theatre, fearing a repeat of my Voyage of the Dawn Treader troubles. But if you enjoyed it, I am encouraged.

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  2. This was our Christmas present to each other and we did like it. But I think out of all of them (The Hobbit and the LOTR trilogy) I had invested more interest in Bilbo and so the latent nit-picker in me was also a little squirmy.

    Of course it was beautiful and Peter Jackson can create fantastic stories, even out of the ones that belong to other people.

    As for Gollum's improved graphics? Surreal.

    We're planning to see the second one in the theater, although I can't say that we'll pay for 3D again.

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    1. Gollum's skin was definitely in the uncanny valley.

      AMDG

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  3. I took two of our children to see The Hobbit on Christmas Eve. I didn't find the film as dismal as I was expecting, but I was expecting it to be pretty dismal. So in that sense it was unexpectedly good. I was curious how they would deal with so much of the action under the mountains taking place in the dark, but that was dealt with simply by making the tunnels surprisingly spacious and well lit. Jackson obviously thinks that what people want are flashes and clashes and bangs, and that he has to add more in when there aren't enough in the original, but the best bits by far were the supper and the riddle contest. It was nice that they were done as leisurely set pieces, and not hurried through. To pick nits, the film could easily have done without the two battles and the long chase not in the book and been an hour shorter. There are two or three scenes that I guess are only there to promote rides in a Tolkien theme park yet to be unveiled. The decision to play Radagast and the Great Goblin for cheap laughs was about what I was expecting, but most of the film was better than this.

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    1. It may be that part of the reason that I liked it so much was that I had really low expectations. I can think of all kinds of things that are a irksome now, but while I was watching the film, I was, most of the time, completely engaged in the film.

      What you say about the chase scenes is true. I don't like chase scenes, period, but the truth of the matter is that a large portion of Jackson's audience does, so I've just accepted them as something to be put up with. They are a good time to go to the restroom if you happen to have foolishly consumed three glasses of tea right before you went to the theatre.

      AMDG

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  4. I am looking forward to seeing the film this afternoon. There are consolations for having a sore throat! Grumpy

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    1. I'll be interested in hearing what you have to say about it. And then, I hope your throat gets better.

      AMDG

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  5. The movie was magnificent - the throat is still horrible. Your comparison is very interesting. I think that as Peter Jackson went on, he realized that an epic myth has to be mythical - larger than natural life. A mythic hero has to be a Hero. Grumpy

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  6. What I want to know is, what is Cate Blanchette putting on her face, that makes her look almost as young as in the LOTR movies of 10 years past! :) How do they make Lord Elinore (?) look the same as in the older movies? They didn't do it to Gandalf - he evidently looks his age.

    The scene where they are carried away by the eagles is breathtaking.

    Grumpy

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    1. It was Elijah Wood that got me--as fresh-faced as ever. I think that Gandalf is so old that anything they did to make him look younger would look fake.

      I loved the eagles.

      AMDG

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  7. Or as my grown up nephew put it: "I really enjoyed it. As long as he stays away from the Silmarillion."

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    1. Well, if The Hobbit is taking three movies, the Silmarillion would take 300 movies.

      But, I mentioned earlier how The Hobbit is only a story, not really part of the over-arching myth of the LOTR, which is why I don't mind changes so much. Then I realized that what he is doing by adding the story of Thorin in Moria, and other things like that is incorporating The Hobbit into the bigger myth, so is that going to bother me later on? I don't know.

      AMDG

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    2. Yse, he's retrofitting The Hobbit from the epic perspective of LOTR and the histories of Middle Earth, rather than telling it as it was written. If he didn't he wouldn't have material for three films.

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    3. Yes, rather. I don't know what's wrong with me today. (Well, flu, for one thing, but I don't see why that should affect my typing.)

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    4. I hope your flu gets better, or rather I hope you get better and your flu is defeated.

      AMDG

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  8. I'm going to re-read The Hobbit. I realized watching the movie that I had forgotten most of the story. This is embarrassing because I must have read it in the past ten years - I own a hardback copy which seems to be a quite recent printing. Some of what I have 'forgotten' may be the bits imported from the Silmarillion,of which I've only read the first 1/4. But even so, I didn't remember the 14 dwarfs or going to this mountain. I remember the name Smaug and that's it. Multiple view of LOTR has wiped it out of my memory. Grumpy

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  9. I suppose they must either do some kind of botoxing on the actor's faces, or alter them digitally. Most likely the former (?)

    I have to confess I didn't realize it was Elijah Wood. Well, I did, in the first couple of minutes, but then I put it out of mind because it was impossible. I put my sense of the similarity down to my tendency to think my friends are all the same age as when I met them.

    Generally, I don't like the tendency towards fantasy and cartoonishness in a lot of modern cinema. For instance, I detested the one 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movie I saw. But in this movie, many of the same techniques and stunts were so aesthetically pleasurable that I didn't mind the attendant disgregard of plausibility.

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    1. I'm trying to decide whether or not I want to re-read The Hobbit or wait until I've seen the others. I'm afraid that if I read it, I will be disappointed with the movies. Maybe I'll just read up to the point where we are in the movie.

      I kept wondering if some of the first part of the movie was footage from the old one, but Becca says no. Bilbo definitely looks older. I think he's a bit heavier.

      AMDG

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  10. I'm afraid y'all are encouraging me in my disinclination to see it. It's not that I'm extremely nit-picky--in principle I'm ok with changes made in the name of cinematic necessity or practice. But one can bow to those to some degree without introducing stupidity. Or maybe current cinematic necessity/practice (aka audience expectations) *do* require stupidity. Either way, I seem to have a much lower tolerance for the general laying on of superfluous battles, chases, unsuspenseful cliffhangers, etc etc etc. One of the things I really hated in LotR was the battle with the cave troll. I'd rather watch Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote than that sort of thing.

    Here's what I said in 2004 about Return of the King: "The films seem driven by a compulsion to overstate and overdo, to crowd every possible moment with action, to pile more and yet more noisy dangers, yet more unconvincing physical stunts, onto the story: the combat between Saruman and Gandalf in Fellowship, which ought to have been something subtle; the endless fight with the cave-troll; the unnecessary and unbelievable leaps among the falling stairs in Moria; Frodo’s standard Hollywood fall-and-hang-by-the-fingers at the Crack of Doom. All of this imparts a cartoonish quality to much of the film and has exactly the opposite of its intended effect on me: rather than compelling my attention it breaks the spell, and provokes the rolling of eyes."

    I'm less inclined to put up with this now than I was then, mainly because of the way the movies occupied my imagination, so that I can still see those images 8 years later.

    I agree completely with you, Janet, about the portrayal of Aragorn being the single biggest problem with the LotR movies. It was both more and less forgiveable--it wasn't pandering, like the other stuff I mentioned, and presumably was a serious artistic decision, but a very mistaken one. I guess I'm still not convinced Peter Jackson understands Tolkien.

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    1. Okay, I take it back. You shouldn't go see it.

      The thing is that I agree with everything you say, except that I seem to have trained myself to just withdraw from those parts that drive me crazy. There are things from LotR that still occupy my imagination, and I mean occupy it the way an enemy army occupies a conquered territory, but those were bad portrayals of characters, changes in the story line that should not have been made, and making light of things that should have been serious. The stupid additions, like the troll thing and the chases, etc., I just barely remember. If those things do stick with you though, you probably will be unhappy with the movie.

      The only instance of the first kind of thing that I can remember in The Hobbit is the portrayal of Radagast, and I didn't like that; however, I don't really remember Radagast at all. I know he goes bad, though, so in the end he certainly isn't comical.

      I don't think that Peter Jackson understands Tolkien, but I think he loves Tolkien. I'm thinking that as G says above, he might have learned something from LotR.


      AMDG

      AMDG

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  11. I was able to see The Hobbit this weekend. All of the things Maclin didn't like about LotR are in evidence, but I must say that when the credits rolled, my first thought was "That was great!" Looking back on it now, I can see that some things were too much -- the big goblin fight and the orc/tree thing at the end -- but while the movie was playing I enjoyed it.

    For all the sound and fury, it wasn't as loud and obnoxious as I feared it would be. There were quite a few pauses and quiet moments, and the scene with the eagles was a wonderful finish. I also really liked the introductory material about the history of the dwarves. Smaug in the movie is much fiercer than the Smaug of my imagination.

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    1. Yes, that's pretty much how I reacted.

      AMDG

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  12. It's not a bad film, although there is a bit too much in the way shouts and bangs and clashes and cliff-hanging, but it's not The Hobbit. I think it might be the best "swords and sorcery" film I've ever seen (including LOTR, but perhaps not counting Chinese efforts), but it turns the heart of the book it's based on inside out.

    The central fact of The Hobbit is that Bilbo remains resolutely unheroic throughout (in the "heroic age" sense), despite showing courage and resourcefulness on numerous occasions. Even in the final battle, he gets knocked on the head early on and misses the whole thing. The film is now a third of the way through the story, and he's already a swordsman killing demon-wolves. Peter Jackson may think that makes him more acceptable as a cinematic hero, but it really stops him being Bilbo Baggins, and completely misses the most salient theme of the story.

    In the book, the dwarves themselves purposely avoid battle as much as they can, until they have a home and a treasure to defend; in the film they're spoiling for a fight at every turn, not only with goblins but even with elves. Most of the story is a series of escapes and evasions, rather than battles, with hospitality and inhospitality more obvious themes than swordsmanship. Jackson keeps hospitality (but loses the dwarves' elaborate courtesy), and keeps the escapes (elaborating them painfully), but doesn't trust Tolkien when it comes to the main theme: his heroes have to be reckless and violent to be heroic at all.

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    1. Correction: glancing at the book I find that in the final battle Bilbo is knocked on the head at the climax, and only misses the denouement. But when Thorin comes charging out of the mountain at the very end it is the first time he has sought battle – in that sense it is a sudden, final reversal that puts him in a completely new light as a hero, not one more instance in a long list of combats. I suppose this makes me a fully paid up member of the pickier or the pickiest?

      Of course, it is possible that having built up Bilbo to being "accepted" by Thorin as a hero in the "heroic" mould, Jackson will take an opportunity in the next instalments to turn it around and have Thorin recognize his worth in the "unheroic" mould (as he does in the book in his dying speech). But I'd be very pleasantly surprised if he did.

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  13. "already a swordsman killing demon-wolves."

    [rolling of eyes]

    Actually this is beginning to sound so divorced from reality (i.e. the book) that I can imagine sort of enjoying it in an action-movie special-effects way.

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  14. I'm about to make a New Year's Resolution not to write about films anymore. The problem is that I have one I want to write something about and I don't have time to do it before tomorrow.

    AMDG

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  15. Perhaps resolve not to write about any films you watch in the coming year?

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    1. Perhaps Janet thinks posting about films brings out the worst in some of her commenters?

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    2. Ha. No, I was just busy and exhausted and couldn't bear to think at the moment.

      AMDG

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  17. don't make that resolution

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    1. No, I don't think I could keep it.

      AMDG

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  18. Radagast goes bad? I thought he was the simple St. Francis-y bird man (he's even Franciscanly brown!), and essentially static as a character, in his few appearances.

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    1. In the book(s), I mean. I haven't seen the movie(s) -- any of them -- and I'm not sure I'm going to.

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    2. Somebody who ought to know told me last week that he joined with Saruman. I didn't remember that and haven't had time to look it up, but I know you have read it more recently than I have.

      I just sent you an email.

      AMDG

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    3. In LOTR, Radagast is duped by Saruman into sending Gandalf into a trap, but not being a conscious accomplice in Saruman's evil plan he also sends the eagle that rescues Gandalf from Saruman's clutches. Then he just disappears from the story, as far as I remember. If he does go bad, I think it must be something in the Silmarillion, rather than LOTR (but that I haven't read, or ever found readable, despite three or four attempts. Still, a year ago I could have said the same about St Therese of Lisieux's autobiography).

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    4. Oh good. Thanks for looking.

      AMDG

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  19. I'm not sure, and it would take too long to dig through the book and find out, but my vague memory is that he did go bad. I don't think he was in the Rings movies at all.

    Actually I suppose one could find the answer more or less instantly with Google.

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    1. Paul looked it up. It's right above this.

      AMDG

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    2. Correction, Paul already knew it.

      AMDG

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  20. Yes, what Paul says is what I thought. He's innocent and trusting enough to be Saruman's pawn, but nothing more, and Gandalf himself doesn't impute any actual malice to him. I haven't read enough of the Silmarillion to know whether he shows up there at all.

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  21. I did read the Silmarillion, but it was thirty years ago and I don't remember much at all. Fortunately, there is an index, and y'all are exactly right:

    "[Saruman] gathered a great host of spies, and many of these were birds; for Radagast lent him his aid, divining naught of his treachery, and deeming that this was but part of the watch upon the Enemy."

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  22. Well, that's nice to know.

    AMDG

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