Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit monumentally entertaining -- but a bit too long

I am a huge J.R.R. Tolkien fan.

Just want to get that out of the way, right off the bat.

Still, I went into the midnight showing of ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ with a few doubts last night. I mean, all I’ve been hearing about is that it’s too long and bloated.

So, what did I think?

It is too long – but it’s genuinely a wonderful movie. In the grand scheme of things, there are only three scenes I think are unnecessary or too long.

The first is the prologue. I understand what Peter Jackson was trying to do – but I don’t think the opening story on how the dwarves lost their home actually works. After seeing it, I was really worried about the rest of the film.

Thankfully, ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ actually gets better and better as it climbs to its crescendo.

The other two scenes I didn’t think were necessary were Radagast the Brown – who walks around with literal bird poop on his head – and an ridiculously long assembly in the middle of the movie revolving around Elrond, Gandalf, Galadriel and Saruman.

I understand Peter Jackson’s thinking – he wants fans to be happy at the returning faces.

I was definitely happy to see Elijah Wood’s Frodo – and I thought it was a nice twist that the last time we see him he’s heading off to surprise Gandalf before Bilbo’s big party – but I think Saruman and Galadriel could have been eliminated from the film in its entirety.

Now, for the actual movie itself, I couldn’t be happier with the casting. Martin Freeman instills Bilbo with the perfect mix of trepidation and intrigue.

The truth is, Bilbo is not known for one strong personality trait. He is not overly loyal like Sam, ridiculously driven like Frodo or a free spirit like Merry and Pippin. He is an amalgam of all of them – but he is also held back by his own fears.

Ian McKellan is wonderful as Gandal – just as he was in the first trilogy. This Gandalf is not as worldly and a little more playful – but it’s still the same character.

The real revelation here, though, is Richard Armitage as Thorin. Every scene he is in, Armitage steals. His Thorin has a terrific chip on his shoulder, but he is also brave and loyal and he’s willing to sacrifice himself for everyone in the company.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s also easy on the eyes in his long wig.

Only two of the other dwarves are fleshed out relatively well – which honestly isn’t that different than the book. They are Ken Stott’s Balin – the historian – and Aidan Turner’s Kili. I did find it funny that every time a reaction shot was needed from the dwarves, Jackson almost involuntarily went for Kili. He is the prettiest of the dwarves, without a doubt, and Jackson doesn’t seem to mind using that to reel in young girls (like Orlando Bloom did in the first trilogy).

As usual, Jackson did a wonderful job of catching the world – and the cinema-scape is truly spectacular. There have been some complaints about the film looking “cartoony” – but the only scene I found to be distracting was one set in the rain where it didn’t look like the characters were actually getting wet.

I still think Jackson would have been better off making ‘The Hobbit’ into two movies – instead of three – but I can’t argue with his attention to detail.

My three favorite scenes in the movie are also three of my favorite scenes in the book.

The first is the somewhat comical troll scene, where three hungry trolls are debating how to cook dwarves for dinner. Since it was one of my favorite scenes in the book, I was looking forward to seeing how it was portrayed in the movie. I couldn’t have been happier.

The next scene that I was worried about was Gollum and Bilbo’s ‘Riddles in the Dark.’ My theater actually started clapping when Gollum first appeared on screen. He was still as entertaining and obnoxious as everyone remembers from the ‘Lord of the Rings’ – and it was nice to see him again.

The movie ends, essentially, with the much ballyhooed rescue of the company by the Eagles – and the intensity of the scene – and Thorin’s emotional acceptance of Bilbo at the end – are definitely a great place to end the first movie.

The other scene in the movie I really loved was the action sequence revolving around Gandalf and the dwarves as they fight their way out of the troll caves. It was so well done, viewers actually feel like they’re on a ride as it happens.

The final scene of the movie is a quick glance from the stirring Smaug in his gold chamber. We didn’t get to see all of him – but I’m looking forward to the big reveal in the next movie.

So, essentially, ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ wasn’t perfect – but it was still monumentally entertaining and emotionally fulfilling.

Welcome back to Middle Earth.

What do you think? Are you going to see ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’?


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