The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

hb4“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

That’s how J.R.R. Tolkien began his novel, The Hobbit, which was originally published 75 years ago in 1937. Not surprisingly, that is how the Peter Jackson helmed film, named The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, began. For those of you born this morning, or even as far back as a fortnight ago, I will not bring forth a discussion of what a hobbit actually is.

The hobbit in question is named Bilbo Baggins, and he lived, like nearly all hobbits, in the The Shire in the world known as Middle Earth. Now Bilbo was the uncle of Frodo Baggins, the erstwhile star of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, also directed by Mr. Jackson. In the LOTR series, Bilbo was played by Ian Holm.

Mr. Holm return to this film as Bilbo, and at the time he says the words, In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit, he’s about to set down his adventures in writing for his young nephew Frodo. Bilbo’s adventures were 60 years earlier than the time of the LOTR. So the framing device, a written memoir, is the method used by Jackson and his script writers, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, to launch this film.

So once again, Holm, the actor, plays only a supporting role. The hero of this film is Holm’s character, Bilbo Baggins, but as a younger hobbit, who is played by Martin Freeman. Still, getting cast in the role of Baggins will ensure that Holm’s name will always be linked with The Lord of the Rings, with Peter Jackson, and of course with J.R.R. Tolkien. For those of you with long memories, which once again excludes those of you born in the last fortnight, Ian Holm was notable for losing his head, literally, in Alien, back in 1979, when he played the robotic medical officer, Ash, who had a nasty encounter with the monstrous extra-terrestrial alien.

Ian Holm as Ash (top) and Bilbo Baggins (bottom). He looks sp much better when he's altogether.

Ian Holm as Ash (top) and Bilbo Baggins (bottom). He looks so much better when he’s not at loose ends.

The Hobbit film is a story of an epic adventure, not into outer space, but rather into the world called Middle Earth. Bilbo was just a young man enjoying life in The Shire when one day, he is visited by the wizard Gandalf (once again played by the peerless Ian McKellen), who asks Baggins to join him, and others, for an adventure. The others were a collection of dwarves who sought to regain their homelands, Erebor and the Lonely Mountain, which were now under the control of the evil dragon Smaug.

So the adventure begins as Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, and the dwarves set out to reclaim, by any means necessary, their ancestral lands in Erebor. For Baggins, it is indeed an unexpected adventure. He’s not suited for warfare, as hobbits, as a general rule, are peace-loving simple folk who love to cook, and tend to their gardens. For we viewers in the audience, we are in for a lengthy spell of movie going. Not only did this film run a lengthy 169 minutes, but as the film ends, we know we are facing two more movies to see The Hobbit to its conclusion. The second film will open in a year in mid-December, 2013, and the third part will make its appearance in July of 2014.

I must say that despite the film’s length it was an enjoyable experience. Yes, for sure the film is definitely too long. Some may say the film has far too much padding and filler – that they could easily lose 40 minutes or so. Those who say this, are also stating that Jackson et al, took a slight book, The Hobbit, if anything, it is far shorter than any of the three books of the LOTR, and have decided to make this into a three-part film series to keep those box-office people busy. In other words. make money by the boat loads. Well ,that may be craven to some, but realistically, it is the way of the film business.

For the record, we have to sit through 45 minutes before the dwarves, Gandalf, and Bilbo actually depart on the unexpected journey. Before then, we get a near farce at Baggins’ hole in the ground home. I say farce because there was a whole lot of the front door opening and closing as the dwarves found their way to Chez Baggins for a sumptuous repast and a night’s lodging. I was struck by the fact of the absurdity of having the dwarves arrive in pairs with intervals of time in between. Since Gandalf had to go back to the dwarves encampment to give them the go-ahead to make for the home with a crayon marking on the front door.

McKellen as Gandalf still is the man.

McKellen as Gandalf still is the man.

Since the dwarves probably didn’t have I-Phones, the likelihood should have been that they were all in the same place, when they got their marching orders from Thorin (The Dwarf Leader), played beautifully by Richard Armitage, who had received a message from Gandalf. So why were their arrivals spaced out? Right – to add time. Then the dinner banquet added more time as Bilbo worried about his home, and his provisions. Would the ravenous horde of dwarves leave his place standing, or is squatting the right term for it.

Richard Armitage as Thorin - the leader of the pack as it were.

Richard Armitage as Thorin – the leader of the pack as it were.

On the road – the dwarves have to flee from a marauding Orc pack. They go through a hide and seek sequence with the Orcs who claim they can smell the dwarves

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Then came dinner at the trolls. The trolls are Tom, Bert, and William Troll, who are really an early version of the Three Stooges (though hardly the prototype). Only this time the dwarves themselves were being served AS the food for the trolls. Big, huge, slow, and dumb are apt terms to describe the trolls. I never believed the dwarves and company were in any danger, but it was fun to listen to the trolls argue about the proper seasoning for roasted dwarf. Obviously the trolls were not good guys, but they were very digital and as such images of them are hard to come by.

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Another interval for more time on the road which included being hunted and chased by the Orcs. Speaking of which, didja ever notice that we never meet any female Orcs, or orc kids. Just saying…

Then we get a lengthy sequence in Goblin Town – a vast underground city with every place connected by wooden plank bridges. The Goblin King looked like a distant cousin of Jabba the Hut. I wasn’t impressed by the Goblins – they looked like smaller relatives of the Orcs, and they were dispatched far too easily. I liked the Gringott Bank goblins from the Harry Potter films far better. At least the Gringotts dressed in shirt and ties, and had accounting skills. These goblins in The Hobbit must have had some industry going on for so many of them to be collected in one place – but I couldn’t decipher what it might have been. To their credit, these Goblins were aces in taking headers off the aforementioned wooden bridges on the way to plunging to their deaths.

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Then came a respite in Rivendell, home of the Elves. It is in this location that Hugo Weaving as Elrond, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, and Christopher Lee as Saruman make their sole appearances in this film. Aside from the beautiful location and settings,  not much happened. For a while, I thought these three characters might have appeared there as extenders but they did serve purposes – Elrond gave the Dwarves and company the meaning of the map, Galadriel and Gandalf communicated telepathically,

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and Lee’s Saruman gave wise and sage advice and pronouncements as only a long bearded, long robed wizard can.

Somewhere in here, we have Bilbo finding himself alone in a subterranean lake front. This is where Gollum makes his appearance. He’s still loathsome, and still ,one is amazed by the wizardry necessary to produce him on-screen. I don’t know about you – but I thought this episode was also overly long and I thought that Gollum looked much bigger this time around.

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What’s left? Another huge battle with the pack of Orcs which doesn’t go well for the dwarves until they are rescued before they lose any one by a flock of pro-dwarf eagles who run a convincing airlift operation which brings all of them safely to within sight of The Lonely Mountain and the dwarves homeland, Erebor. This is where the film suddenly, but not totally unexpected ends.

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Of course the film is great to look at. The artistry and the technical virtuosity is stunning. The story suffers from a lack of real threats and therefore the corresponding lack of true tension does impact the film – but that’s only if you spend time pondering. But you won’t because there is far too much to see and admire.

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I think that The Hobbit also has a familiarity to it. We aren’t truly terrified of the orcs because we have seen them before and we know that they are far less awesome than you might expect. THey never seem to win on screen despite their overwhelmng ugliness and brutish behavior.  We know that this one is just the first film of this new trilogy, so we won’t lose any major characters. I expect we will see more of Gollum, Saruman, Elrond, and Galadriel in the next film, but what will they do for monsters and terror?

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You know, after you see The Hobbit, you might come away thinking that maybe Tolkien was influenced by L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. Seems likely that Tolkien may have read the Baum book before he sat down and created Middle Earth. But that’s just my own idle speculation.

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After all, there’s not all that much difference between Lion, and Tigers, and Bears, Oh my – and Trolls, and Goblins, and Orcs, Oh my. But to be fair, no one in the film says that. But just because no one says it – doesn’t mean there aren’t some similarities.

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Dorothy and Bilbo both visit strange new lands and want to return home. Bilbo learns that he is smart, and he has courage, and most of all, he has enough heart to stand up to the perils of his adventure. And that he is not all that different from The Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. You can point out the differences between the Orc’s lead warrior and the evil Almira Gulch/The Wicked Witch – but the difference is just in the amount of muscle mass and the fact that the Orcs don’t ride on brooms.

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Just saying.

By the way – I saw this in a theater set up for an Imax 3-D presentation. I didn’t think the 3-D was all that special – but watching the film of the big screen was impressive.  My overall rating is four point zero out of five.

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One thought on “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

  1. I consider Lord of the Rings to be among the finest cinematic achievements in motion picture history. As for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the closest approximation is The Phantom Menace. I liked The Phantom Menace back in May 1999 and I still do (in defense of… ). But I now know exactly how those who disliked or hated Episode One felt on that fateful evening 12.5 years ago. I feel your pain, for now it is my pain as well…

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