The Hobbit: An Expected Movie…

The Hobbit: An Expected Movie…
               Today being the 121st anniversary of the birth of JRR Tolkien, I thought it appropriate to have a brief review of the latest movie based on “The Hobbit”.
               My wife and I saw “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” New Year’s Eve morning.  Although the film was in its third week as the #1 movie, there were only about twenty others in the theater – including one family we knew from the local library’s monthly Game Day.
               I enjoyed “The Hobbit” more than “Lord of the Rings”. Purists are spitting at me and preparing their flaming responses. True purists are angry that I enjoyed either (that does not upset me – if there is still anyone that, after a century of movie-making, still expects a film to follow the novel on which it is based; that person is a fool and should avoid movies altogether).
               I love the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Love it! But I enjoyed the Hobbit more and for different reasons.
               Note that during this little review I am referring to all three movies comprising the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy as one, whereas I will only be discussing “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” by itself. I suspect I will have trouble keeping the names of the three Hobbit movies straight – the names of the individual LOTR movies in the trilogy are named from the books. When I refer to “The Hobbit”, I am talking about the first movie, “An Unexpected Journey”.
               My first thoughts after watching the Hobbit:  LOTR is looking at Michelangelo’s paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; The Hobbit is looking at my three-year-old attempt to write her name. LOTR is viewing the Grand Canyon; The Hobbit is watching kittens and puppies play. LOTR is listening to a first-class symphony perfecting a complicated piece; The Hobbit is listening to and watching a ceilidh.
               LOTR filled me with awe and I spent most of the movie with my jaw dropped; I spent much of The Hobbit giggling. I laughed more during the first Hobbit film than I did during the entire LOTR trilogy. LOTR was the epic and apocalyptic battle that ending an era and ushered in the Age of Men. The Hobbit was about leaving home and going home.  There and back again.  The characters in LOTR were weary and wary. “Why did this have to happen during my time?”  The characters of The Hobbit wondered what was in their pockets.
               Both movies dealt with the very small. This was done in LOTR under the umbrella of an epic. It showed that even the least of us can make a difference – sometimes a big difference. The Hobbit has the same lesson but on a more accessible scale. Here are dwarves – themselves admitting that with one exception they are not the mightiest warriors – fighting to get their home back. They are aided by a mighty wizard (at this point we are not supposed to know Gandalf is an immortal Istari), and (for reasons yet to be explained) a burglar.
               The main character is a man at ease in his skin. He enjoys a good book in a good chair in his good home; that is until a strange visitor whisks him off and changes his life forever.  I am talking about Bilbo Baggins. I am also talking about Dr. John Watson of “Sherlock” and Arthur Dent of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. All three have been played by Martin Freeman – who has by now perfected the art of incredulousness.  Ironically his partner in “Sherlock” – Benedict Cumberbatch – will play the Necromancer. I wonder if they will have any scenes together. Cumberbatch also does the voice of Smaug – who shares many a soliloquy with Bilbo, but voiceovers don’t count.
               The scenery and score were as majestic as LOTR. In that respect, the bar placed so high with the first trilogy was met.
               I was expecting some of the critiques of “The Hobbit” – overlong scenes not in the book, scenes taken from Tolkien’s other works to pad this greed-machine into its three films:  things like the character of Azog, a passing name in one line of the novel but given the role of chief villain of this first movie (Smaug and the Necromancer being the other two baddies to come, presumably); the meeting of the White Council – another line or two from the novel given a long but important (yet not vital) scene, etc.
               These did not bother me so much. Who wouldn’t enjoy spending more time in this vision of Middle Earth? If this represents the quality of added scenes, by all means add them! Add more!
               The trolls in LOTR were near-mindless brutes; in the Hobbit they could have been extras from “My Fair Lady”. I expected them to start singing “Any Old Iron” or “My Old Man Said to Follow the Van”. The AD&D player in me screams, “But these were mountain trolls, not cave trolls – an intelligence of 10 as opposed to 7…”  The truth is “The Hobbit” was written for children and the trolls’ names and actions were done for comic, although still scary, effect.
               Ditto the Great Goblin, played by Barry Humphries – more famous as Dame Edna. In LOTR goblins and/or orcs were vile and brutal beast-men.  In the Hobbit they are not as bestial.  Silly, in fact, as in the case of the Great Goblin. Think Jabba the Hut (the resemblance is notable) as the villain of the piece compared to Darth Vader (from the first two movies, not the wuss from the later trilogies…). Being used to the snarling cannibals of LOTR, his wise-cracks were off-putting (“did he just say that?”). I would not have been more surprised if he addressed Thorin as “dude”.
               Sylvester McCoy was just as silly as Radagast the Brown – mentioned but never seen in the novel (he has a cameo in the LOTR novels but not the film trilogy) and given an important role in the movie. I think if the two blue wizards (Alatar and Pallando) appear I might join in the protests – but McCoy as Radagast?  More giggly fun!
               The only criticism that resonated with me was the “sexy dwarves”. I realize the producers’ problem – you can’t have thirteen characters with paper-thin personalities take up nine hours of a movie. In fact, the only ones with any traits at all in the novel were the gluttonous Bombur (and that was his trait – gluttony) and Thorin (epitomizing greed).  And even if every dwarf is given a personality (which the producers try to do with some effect), it is difficult when they all look like Santa Claus or members of ZZ Top. So the dwarves are given smaller noses and little if any facial hair – as opposed to the hirsute dwarves spotted in LOTR. In fact, when they meet and argue at Bag End they resemble Klingons more than dwarves.
               It will be interesting to see if they continue to expand on the lives and lifestyles of dwarves. LOTR certainly showed us the way of elves. Maybe we will see dwarves as more than sidekicks (one can hope, unlikely as that may be). I did enjoy them saying they were a homeless race – they were tinkers, toymakers, smithies, but not a united peoples. Nice touch. I want more of that.
               I was pleased to see cameos by Elijah Wood and Ian Holm. I doubt these were outtakes from LOTR or we would have seen them in the hours-could-be-measured-in-days extra scenes from the various DVDs. I was worried when that started announcing the returning cast of “The Hobbit” – Orlando Bloom as Legolas, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel. “Great,” I said, “is there any character from LOTR that was actually IN ‘The Hobbit’ going to be in the film?” Yes, Gandalf, Elrond and Gollum all played – and played well – by the original cast members from LOTR (Ian McKellen, Hugo Weaving, and Andy Serkis respectively).  Christopher Lee is still sinister as Saruman – I had known the White Counsel was part of the movie, so why was I so surprised he reprised his role?
               Do not worry about the movie being too long and being padded to make even more money. Relax. Enjoy it.  Rather than be miffed, relish this visit with some old friends. “The Hobbit” was a joyful treat – how can that be a bad thing?