Quick Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Is it acceptable to feel just plain old conflicted about whether or not you like a movie?

I saw the first installment of The Hobbit film trilogy today, and this is how I feel about it.  In some ways I think I like it, but in other ways it just was not that good.  Does this matter?

(please note, if you have not seen the film and do not want me to ruin it for you, you might not want to read any further)

Here are some examples of why I am conflicted:
1) For the most part I love what the filmmakers added to the film of what was not in the original book, and yet at the same time all the additions and changes do not sit well with me.  It is as if with every change they are saying to J.R.R. Tolkien, “Nice try, but we know how to build dramatic tension a little bit better, don’t you think,” or “We know what you were really trying to say here Professor Tolkien, which is why we added this and changed that.”  For example:

--I love the prologue that explains the backstory of the downfall of Thror’s (Thorin’s Grandfather) kingdom’s, I love seeing Old Bilbo, Frodo, and the Shire again, and I even love the liberty they took in gathering the White Council at Rivendell in order to discuss the rise of the Necromancer, but sometimes it seem like they were trying too hard to connect the narrative of The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings.

--In relation to that point, I love how serious they have made The Hobbit, but at the same time I feel it is too dark.  It certainly is no longer a children’s story.

--And on top of all this I still do not understand why filmmakers see the need to change plot points (especially those that transition or develop the plot) that really add nothing to the film as a whole and usually end up detracting from the source work’s original intentions (e.g., that Bilbo and not Gandalf distracted the Trolls, how they found Rivendell, the tension between Gandalf and Thorin, Thorin’s bitterness towards the elves, that the wolves and the eagles did not talk, that Gandalf summoned the eagles and not that they came of their own volition, and especially the great anti-climactic showdown at the end between Thorin and the pale-orc Azog).

--I loved that the plot was set at a slow pace.  I felt like we were able to dwell in the scenes and get a real sense of the settings and characters, and yet the movie could easily have been 45 minutes shorter.  That being said, I found all the political stuff much more interesting and easy to follow than any of the indecipherable political gobbledygook George Lucas through into The Phantom Menace.

2) I LOVED a great number of individual performances but the movie as a whole just fell flat for me.  It was just too much spectacle.  There was too much suspended logic, too many impractical fighting and chasing and falling and hanging-off-the-edge-of-a-cliff scenes, too many false dramatic moments, too much overuse of CGI (try counting all the orcs!), that I just got sick of all the Hollywood trickery.  And dare I say, the 3-D (on IMAX too) left me with a resounding "MEH."  Next time 2-D will suffice.  

But MAN were there some great acting jobs in this movie.  
Here are my favorites in order:
1. Andy Serkis as Gollum--he's again excellent: creepy, sinister, sad, helpful, pathetic, playful, etc.
2. Martin Freeman as young Bilbo--Peter Jackson is correct in saying they could not have picked a better Bilbo.
3. Ian McKellan as Gandalf--I seriously want Ian McKellan's Gandalf to be my grandfather.
4. Ken Stott as Balin
5. James Nesbitt as Bofur (I also loved watching Nesbitt in the TV mystery series Murphy's Law)
6. Richard Armitage as Thalin
7. Barry Humphries (Dame Edna!) as the Great Goblin
8. Ian Holm and Elijah Wood and Old Bilbo and Frodo

Actually, this would be my conclusion: There is so much great acting is this movie that taken on that alone I would have to say this is an excellent movie, and yet as a whole I feel the movie does not exactly work.  It is bloated, overlong, and emotionally manipulative (that is, it is a typical Hollywood film). 

And then I have just one last thing to say: Benedict Cumberbatch!

Oh yes, and please check out this brief reflection on how Jackson and company really got the ending of The Return of the King wrong.


TwiceBorn said...

Wow, you pretty much summed up my problems with it. My main problems were as follows:

Too much suspension of disbelief with the the cheap looking action scenes. Too much CGI spectacle that really just bored me. If you look at this film on it's own, the main plot is just not interesting. I felt nothing for Azog and Thorin's conflict. It just felt like a conflict between a dwarf and a video game character. To many unnecessary changes and omissions that really could have been great. Terrible anticlimactic ending. Too many forced references to lotr.

If you compare it to fotr, it completely fails as a movie. Fotr had an amazing three act plot that made for an incredible emotional payoff. Act 1: The unlikely fellowship is forced to form due to uncontrollable events that must be dealt with. Act 2: The fellowship is bonded together as they fight, laugh, suffer, and fear together. Act 3: The fellowship is unavoidably ripped apart in a climax that calls each of them to make sacrifices and take on burdens. That is an amazing story.

The Hobbit: Act 1: Bilbo reluctantly decides to go on a adventure. Act 2: Bilbo continues going on the adventure as many other unrelated things are occurring. Act 3: Bilbo proves himself to Thorin by saving him from an uninspiring video game character.

Is there anything to like? Sure, there's a lot to like. But I can't help thinking about all there is to hate every time I think about the movie. Most of the stuff I like is relying on lotr nostalgia.

Two more things: 1. I never noticed Benedict Cumberbatch. I know he's going to voice Smaug and the necromancer, but was he even used in this movie? 2. Thanks for the article about the lotr ending. What Tolkien said was super interesting and I'll never be able watch the ending the same way again. Frodo wasn't the hero who overcame evil and decided the fate of Middle Earth, the transcendent author was. The film's ending shows that Tolkien's agenda is not compatible with modern Hollywood's agenda.

PostConsumer Reports said...

That's some great analysis TwiceBorn. I love your line about the video game character! Made me laugh.

Supposedly Cumberbatch played the Necromancer, in that really brief scene where we see his shadow.

Eric M said...

I completely agree. I particularly disliked the unnecessary LotR characters shoehorned into the film.

I still enjoyed it and thought that on a whole it was executed better than the LotR films, but I'm cautiously optimistic at best for the next part. The movie really should have been two parts only.