The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Nominations:

  • Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Production Design
  • Visual Effects

The Black-and-White:

A review by spacedcowboy:

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…”

With these words begins our re-entry into Middle Earth. It has been nine long years since Frodo slipped the shores of Middle Earth sailing to Valinor, and a legion of avid fans have been waiting ever since for a taste of the wonder yet again.

A plot synopsis from imdb.com:

Bilbo Baggins is swept into a quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield. Their journey will take them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Giant Spiders, Shapeshifters and Sorcerers. Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever … Gollum. Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo Baggins not only discovers depths of guile and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum’s “precious” ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities … A simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know.

I usually like what imdb.com provides as a plot synopsis. The synopsis above is almost useless. Let me start at the beginning – my beginning – with The Hobbit.

I was introduced to the book in 8th grade. It was assigned reading in my English class and so I read it. I suppose everyone has moments in their life that seem innocuous, but in retrospect are moments that change everything, whether for the better or worse.

Reading The Hobbit was such a moment for me.

I loved the book. In fact, I devoured it. Long already, even at that young age, I had been an avid reader. If memory serves, and my parents’ stories are true, I had mastered the alphabet by age three and was reading by age four fairly proficiently. In first grade, I was immediately bumped to the second grade split class as I was reading (and doing math or whatever it is that one does in first grade) at a level advanced for that time.

I say this to set a scene: I was a reader. I read a book every day or so. I read everything I could find. I read fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, anything. And yet, reading The Hobbit was a transformative experience – for the first time in my tender life, I read a story, and had a dream, that everything around me, and myself in particular, could be far, far more than what I had imagined. I knew, for the first time, that I could be more than what I ever thought I was, and that I could do something far more meaningful than anything I had ever imagined.

A dream began with that book.

I quickly read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, followed by The Silmarillion and The Unfinished Tales. It was during reading these books that I first got glasses. A coincidence, I know, but another milestone in my life.

So against this backdrop, and after nine years from ROTK dominating the Academy Awards, The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey at long last re-enters my life.

Other reviews of this film have had two consistent themes: there are those that are outraged that a book that was only 300 pages long could be split into three films, let alone that the first film could possibly justify a run-time of 169 minutes.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are the die-hard Tolkien aficionados who would gladly see each and every page turned into its own feature film.

Although I have an inherent bias towards the latter point of view, I believe there are good arguments for the trilogy at least. You need to recall that Tolkien was not a writer of fiction. Although as an academic, he was intimately familiar with the great stories in the literature – his research on Beowulf serving as an inspiration and guide for example – but his writings, prior to The Hobbit, were scholarly and in the category of non-fiction.

And so in the story of The Hobbit, Tolkien tends to gloss over some events in a cursory fashion. The whole, short story of the capture and escape from the goblins under the Misty Mountains is an example. And while this works in the book, it simply is not possible to incorporate that tale into the film with similar short-shrift.

At the risk of angering the legions of Tolkien fans, I am going to make a radical suggestion: the trio of Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens are better storytellers that Tolkien. Now before you grab Goblincleaver and start rushing at the screen, hear me out.

They tightened, considerably, all three books in the LoTR trilogy. A notable example is the flight from the Shire in FoTR. In the book, after Frodo received the news that he holds the Doom of the World, he takes a leisurely and forlorn last summer in the Shire. In the movie, the chase begins immediately. Neither is wrong, but the latter drives story, and the Jackson Three are very, very good at this.

For me, they again took Tolkien’s wonderful story and added the elements needed to elevate it to the level to be worthy for inclusion with its fathers, in whose mighty company it shall not now feel ashamed.

I agree that the combat and action sequences were greatly expanded from the book, and there is some thought that this is gratuitous. However in the spirit of the genre and the voice of the film, perhaps it works.

Bravo for fine performances from Ian McKellen, Martin Freedman and Richard Armitage. I think, however, the greatest acting praise goes to the rest of the cast comprising the dwarves. They took what may have been unsympathetic characters and made them engaging. Their choice is the reason we rally behind the King Under the Mountain – because they do.

The nominations for Production Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, and Visual Effects are all very-well deserved. It faces a though challenge to win in any…

However the road goes ever on and on, and thankfully, we have two more episodes in this story to enjoy and wonder…

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2 Responses to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

  1. […] As my awards season began, so it ends with my last review before the Academy Awards: The Hobbit . […]

  2. […] I said: “Life of Pi” – Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott although my heart goes to “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” – Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and R. Christop… […]

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