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"The Hobbit" Reviewed

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"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

"The Hobbit" Reviewed

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Hobbit river
Bobby and I went to see The Hobbit last night at a midnight show. Midnight shows aren't something we get to indulge in often, but we decided quite a while back to make an exception given someone's *ahem* Tolkien obsession. We bought our tickets as soon as they went on sale and took the next day off (today) from work. Admittedly, last night, I wasn't feeling very awesome by the time it came to leave, but arriving at a theater packed with fellow Tolkien geeks had a revitalizing effect, and at 11:59 PM, the show began.

I'm going to let alone matters of faithfulness to the text ("canon") for a couple of reasons. First is that this is not my area of expertise, and I've not read the more obscure texts related to The Hobbit. If ever rights are sold to The Silmarillion and it gets made into a movie or TV series, I'll have endless opinions on the interpretation of that, trust in that. Second is that I really do try to go into the movies much as I go into works of fan fiction (since, artistically, there's not much of a difference, if any), i.e. accepting that it is one creator's vision and that enjoyment requires acceptance of that as a precondition. So while I personally wince at the idea of the High Elves as super-effeminate salad eaters because that is not my vision, I also do try not to let it impede enjoyment of the movie as a whole. Y'all know that I have strong feelings on people who embark on reading/viewing lengthy transformative works only to spend the entirety of their response bitching about details that they would have done differently. Forest for the trees, people! ;)

I enjoyed the movie. I was tired and miserable when I arrived, and I was much more awake and straight-up happy when I left. It kept my attention; it moved at a good pace (man critics are claiming the opposite, of course, just as they did for LotR). In tone and style, it tied in pretty well with the existing LotR movies, yet it also had an added touch of whimsy that nodded toward the source text: Radagast's rabbit-drawn sleigh, some of the Dwarf humor, the personification of birds and hedgehogs. This was, of course, a big topic of conversation when word first came out that PJ was making a Hobbit movie: Would he match it more to the book or to the existing LotR movies? I think he struck a nice balance, even though the darkness of LotR--both the books and the movies--is one of the most compelling aspects of it to me.

On that point, The Hobbit--although moving well beyond its origins as a children's book--is not nearly as dark as the LotR movies. When I first saw Fellowship, the Ringwraiths scared the hell out of me--and I'm not easy to scare!--and were one of the first aspects of the legendarium that I wanted to explore beyond the published books. In LotR, Tolkien captured perfectly the sense of corruption and destruction that threatens the world, and PJ did a brilliant job of converting that to film. In The Hobbit, I don't get that same sense of darkness; the villains feel almost cartoonish, and most of the more effective scenes hinge on allusions to the LotR movies (the statue of the Nazgûl at Dol Guldur, even Dol Guldur itself, reminiscent of the ruins of Osgiliath and Minas Morgul). Azog the Defiler is somewhat effective (that wince-inducing prosthesis stabbed long-wise up his arm--yikes!) but still falls shy, to me, of the major villains in LotR, appearing somewhat like what one might purchase at a Spirit Halloween Superstore. The Goblin King barely makes it past comic. Nor do the darker scenes have the same sense of peril as, for example, Frodo waking up at the top of the tower at Cirith Ungol or Merry and Pippin being taken away to Isengard or Sam and Frodo crossing the open lands of Mordor. Perhaps it is foreknowledge from the books (although I had that for RotK at least), or maybe it is the comic overtones of, say, Bilbo's exchange with the trolls. I never felt much dread for the Dwarves in that scene. Perhaps it is because, unlike the Fellowship, which dissolves bit by bit as the story progresses, I know that the full company of Dwarves will arrive at the Lonely Mountain, so much doesn't seem at stake at this point.

The Dwarves, I think, were handled well. As a writer, I can appreciate the challenge of a cast of thirteen characters (with typically Tolkien similar-sounding names!) and trying to distinguish each individually. I think the movie does a good job of pulling out a few of the Dwarves as individual personalities and providing enough distinguishing characteristics of the others that the don't simply fade into a Dwarf-toned background. I also love the variety of Dwarvish appearances--whodda thunk Dwarves could be kind of hot?? ;)--and it is not lost on me that those who appear the most human are those who seem to be receiving the most character development. (The same is true, generally, of PJ's Elves.)

The plot itself suffers somewhat from a lack of cohesiveness: The characters face multiple foes who don't seem connected much at all at this point. I'm curious where PJ will take this. In LotR, the villains seem to all point back, if not to Sauron's seeking the Ring, then to the general dark force that has allowed him to exist in the first place. In contrast, the Hobbit villains feel somewhat disjointed: You have Smaug, Azog the Defiler, the Trolls, the Stone Giants, and the Goblin King; in the background is, of course, the Necromancer. Are any of these even connected to each other? It's not really clear. There is some attempt to connect the existence of at least some of the villains--the trolls being so far out of the mountains--to the spreading corruption of the Necromancer, but this isn't achieved as effectively as a similar idea was handled in LotR, and I'm curious where PJ is going with this. Part of it is, of course, the perils of the first movie in a trilogy: getting caught up in presenting a new world and not able to tie up (or together!) many if any of the loose ends. Part of it, too, is again the source material, which wasn't as unified within a larger narrative framework when Tolkien wrote it as LotR was. I'm reserving judgment for now (rather than stating that Azog, for example, is a superfluous character, which is my temptation at this point--notice how I managed to say it anyway! ;) and very curious to see where the next three movies will go, particularly as far as handling the Necromancer. One of the most intriguing features of The Hobbit book, in my opinion, is how the Necromancer is almost omnipresent in the periphery but never even close to fully revealed, leaving a lot to the reader's imagination. I'm eager to see where PJ & Co.'s imagination will take us.

I want to end with a nod to the character who didn't end up in the villain list above because I wanted to discuss him individually: Gollum. Andy Serkis as Gollum again stole the show; far from his portrayal Gollum becoming tedious, he continues to make the character feel fresh and, most importantly, sympathetic. The pathos when Gollum realizes his precious has been stolen is one of the most human and hard-to-watch scenes and creates the all-important opportunity when Bilbo has the chance to kill Gollum, unseen, and stays his hand. This single moment of mercy sets off a cascade of events that will allow the defeat of Sauron. Serkis and Martin Freeman--both excellent in their roles, in my opinion--allowed this moment to shine without being overstated.

This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!

  • The pathos when Gollum realizes his precious has been stolen is one of the most human and hard-to-watch scenes and creates the all-important opportunity when Bilbo has the chance to kill Gollum, unseen, and stays his hand. This single moment of mercy sets off a cascade of events that will allow the defeat of Sauron.

    I was choked up; Gollum's face, it was an amazing piece of film.

    i.e. accepting that it is one creator's vision and that enjoyment requires acceptance of that as a precondition.

    I went in to watch the Hobbit much less bothered at faithfulness to canon than when I watched FoTR. Since being involved in fanfic, I accept other people's visions. If they don't match mine, that does not matter, as I still have mine, and other people's can be terrific.

    I enjoyed it hugely, but want the extended edition like right now, as I want to just sit back and watch it a few times at my own pace.
    • I loved Gollum in it. I think it is to Serkis's credit that he has managed to interpret and depict that character in such a way that, going into the fifth movie, Gollum still feels complicated, interesting, and not at all gimmicky. I felt in LotR and continue to feel in TH that in the epic clash of Good and Evil, Gollum represents the vast gray area in between and complicates the message of the story. I have to say that in a movie of excellent performances from the actors, Serkis impressed me most.

      Seconded on what you said about fanfic and other people's visions. Having experienced the "you didn't write it like I see it!" comment on my own work, I feel it is inherently unfair to expect another artist to adhere to your vision rather than her/his own. Although the movies will carry more weight as "canon" than any piece of fanfic, they are still "PJ's vision of Tolkien's Middle-earth," not "Tolkien's Middle-earth," and I think a lot of people forget that. I have enjoyed occupying his vision of Tolkien's world for the past decade, and I expect to continue doing so! :)
  • I agree with your assessment pretty much. Yours is much better phrased than mine. I just jotted out what I could still think about at 4 a.m. LOL And yes, that whole scene with Gollum, Andy Serkis is a genius and the CGI is incredible. I just wish that some of these scenes, like the one where Bilbo makes a decision whether or not to kill him, breathed a bit more. It was clear Bilbo was conflicted about it but since we don't get in his head (here is where literature is better) we can't really see it.

    Also agree about Azog. I thought his character, Typical Evil Marauding Villain with no Redeeming Qualities (TM) was unnecessary. I know they wanted to give more action to the quest but hmmm. In the same vein, I thought the Stone Giants were cool but over the top. Too much rock crashing and sliding etc. Do we movie-goers really require our movies to be all action all the time video game substitutes?

    Also agreed with the Goblin King assessment. You've put your finger on what was missing for me, that sense of real peril, rather than a cartoonish one.

    But it was beautifully rendered. Loved watching it. I did enjoy Radagast and his rabbit sleigh (as silly as it seemed). Loved the scenes of Dale and Erebor and the coming of the dragon.

    Edited at 2012-12-14 11:22 pm (UTC)
    • I don't think I would have had what it takes to write a review at 4 AM at all! :D So hats off to you for that!

      Do we movie-goers really require our movies to be all action all the time video game substitutes?

      I'm personally not fond of this at all; I tend to lose interest pretty quickly in prolonged battle scenes and the like. The sliding mountains in the Stone Giants' scene reminded me too much of the falling pathways in Moria in FotR. Which I loved then but now felt like I'd seen before, and I didn't feel a sense of investment since I knew all the Dwarves would survive. (When I saw the FotR movie, I'd not yet read FotR, so I had no idea how Moria would play out and was in greater suspense as a result.) That's not PJ's fault at all, of course, but I do think his storyline suffers because the source material makes it so there is no real loss until the end, giving us probably two whole movies where the peril feels decidedly ... unperilous. (Now I have visions of Monty Python! :)

      I think the rabbit sleigh was my husband's favorite bit! The whole opening sequence for me with the coming of the dragon was one of the best parts of the movie.
    • (no subject) - thelauderdale - Expand
    • (no subject) - dawn_felagund - Expand
  • I think part of the problem with the lack of cohesion (which I didn't notice as much as you did) in the plot is a fact of the book itself. We can't leave out the trolls because of the swords; we can't leave out the Goblin King without losing Gollum and the Ring. Azog is, I think, an attempt to give a continuous and open villain while the Necromancer lies hidden and on the edges. I'm betting things will draw together more in the next two movies.

    But you are right about the lack of peril with Azog and the Goblin King. I felt it far more with Smaug and the Necromancer, even the little bit we had of them.

    Gollum was fantastic.
    • Agreed. As I was thinking, "Which conflict would I cut, if it were my story?" I realized that that was not an easy question. I agree with you that I think everything will hang together better in the subsequent movies.

      On many levels, I think TH, as a book, is the more difficult text to work with, its rather disjointed nature being something that felt glaringly obvious to me as I was watching the movie. But I think the movie rose to the challenge of the source material.
  • It sounds wonderful and I can't wait to see it. O_O :)
  • I loved it! I think as an adaptation it succeeded far better than LotR. It was as I hoped: because of the simple and episodic nature of TH, PJ was able to leave in all the major iconic scenes and still embellish it with many of his action-packed AU gapfillers.

    As for the cartoonish natures of some of the villains, I think that can also be attributed to TH's origins as a children's books. The Goblin King and the Trolls were humorous in the book, no doubt about it. As for Azog, I think he exists to give Thorin a more personal enemy.

    What I found most interesting was the amount of character growth Bilbo has in this first movie--he's already had several heroic moments and has received more respect from the Dwarves than he did at the same point in time in the book. In the book he did not become a "hero" until after the Spider episodes, and the Dwarves still thought of him mostly as a nuisance at this point. Yet movie Bilbo has already shown his bravery more than book Bilbo.

    What I loved were all the iconic scenes that PJ left in, and how they were so beautifully visualized. I also appreciated several of the nods to LotR in this film!

    I was so keyed up when it was over, I easily could have sat through it a second time, even at 4AM. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, as my menfolk would have rebelled) there was no 4AM showing...

    Oh, and did you get the nail polish ad in your theater before the movie? Now THAT was an awesome ad!
    • I agree that a lot of what struck me as different from the LotR trilogy comes from PJ nodding to the source text. In that respect, as I said in my review, I think he did an admirable job of creating a movie that will be contiguous with the LotR trilogy without forgoing entirely the Hobbit source text itself. I think working with TH was, in many ways, probably more difficult than working with LotR, and I think he did a really good job of surmounting those obstacles. I also suspect that a lot of my "complaints" (which really aren't even complaints, as I enjoyed the movie! :) will find resolution in the subsequent movies.

      What I found most interesting was the amount of character growth Bilbo has in this first movie

      Yes, this caught my attention also. I suspect it might be to provide some measure of closure within the first movie. I always feel kinda sorry for directors that take on multi-part projects because too many people don't realize that there will be a sequel/sequels to the movie! I remember seeing the FotR movie, and the people behind us were utterly disgusted at how the movie just ended! With no closure at all! They clearly didn't realize that it was just the first part of a trilogy. In this sense, I feel like the first TH movie provided more closure than FotR did, while making it also abundantly clear that there is a sequel to the movie. I wonder if PJ learned a lesson with LotR, not to overestimate your audience's knowledge of your project's direction or the source material on which it's based. ;)

      Oh, and did you get the nail polish ad in your theater before the movie?

      No, unfortunately! Do you remember the brand? I'll look it up on Youtube.
    • (no subject) - dreamflower02 - Expand
    • (no subject) - thelauderdale - Expand
  • Yes, Gollum was most wonderful (as I said in my own blog) and I loved the movie. We concentrated on different things in our comments, but that's what makes things fun - the same thing seen by many people will equate with multi-facets of cut crystal all reflecting sunlight to enhance the whole.

    I want to see it again and again and again...

    - Erulisse (one L)
  • Oh, I'm so glad that movie retained the book's whimsy and didn't take itself as seriously as the LotR movies did. Not that they weren't whimsical. But The Hobbit is not supposed to be an epic on the scale of LotR; I'm glad PJ didn't make it into one.
    • I think the movie definitely connects enough stylistically with the LotR movies that, once they're all available, one can watch all six of them straight through and feel it is the same world. But there is definitely the whimsy and more of the silly type of humor that definitely nodded toward the source text.
  • Interesting review. I have complicated feelings about the movie. I am fearful that the orc subplot will muck up the ending. I left feeling that this was not so much the Hobbit I remembered as a new version. I liked it but did not love it as much as the original. I also - think this could have been two movies, not three and a shorter story line. I just wonder what they are going to do for three films. It seems a shameless bid for ticket sales really - that makes me angry.

    Edited at 2012-12-15 06:55 pm (UTC)
    • It seems a shameless bid for ticket sales really - that makes me angry.

      I'm sure that's what PJ used to sell the corporate types on the idea of a third movie--can't expect the financial folks to be moved by anything else. But for PJ and the folks on the creative side: I honestly believe for them it was simply a matter of wanting to play a little longer in this fascinating world that they originally thought never to have a chance to play in again, and to not have to leave many of their favorite parts on the cutting room floor.
    • (no subject) - dawn_felagund - Expand
  • I loved it! More critical spectators (or perhaps less invested ones) - my daughters - loved it too.
    My favourites:
    Bilbo: Martin Freeman is truly wonderful
    Thorin (*swoons*)
    Thranduil's brief appearance (*swoons swoons*)
    Thorin's song: though I had heard it in one of the (too many) clips and trailers, I couldn't help humming it all evening long
    Gollum and the whole riddle game

    My dislike: money makes the world go round and three movies will collect more money than two, but many scenes could have been trimmed and the whole would have been tighter. I shouldn't complain since we will have another immersion in M-e but really...
    • The song! The first time I heard the song in a trailer, it had me. I really think it is just perfect.

      I'm curious how the three movies will go. I am less skeptical than I was; I could not imagine fleshing out the Hobbit book into three movies. Three three-hour-long movies. o.O I know, initially, there were plans to incorporate some of the stuff from the LotR Appendices, such as from Aragorn's early days. Especially if that is added, I can see the three working. If not, I think it will be more of a stretch (but less than I initially thought, if that makes any sense at all.)
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