The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

the hobbit posterHwæt!  If you don’t want to witness me taking this movie waaaay too seriously and drowning my keyboard in tears of anger during long sentences of painfully earnest prose, skip to the end and the more easily digestible “WTF Moments” section.

Also, if I thought this movie could be spoiled, I’d be warning you about spoilers right about now…

The Hobbit may be a slim book, a classic adventure tale for children, but it is written skillfully, with wit and humour, character development, a sense of the epic and a mythological backbone that makes it not inconsistent with its titanic offspring, The Lord of the Rings.  Because of this, I hoped (even expected) that it would be treated with the same respect, creativity and slavish attention to detail that J.R.R. Tolkien’s works had previously received at the hands of Peter Jackson.

The only image I could find online of my beloved version of the book (Unwin Paperbacks 1966), Though mine is much more worn around the edges.

The only image I could find of my beloved version of the book (Unwin Paperbacks 1966), Though mine is much more worn around the edges.

At worst, I reasoned, the first installment of a ~9 hour film treatment of a 278 page novel would suffer from additions, not deficiencies.  It would allow the audience to luxuriate (perhaps even excessively) in the details of the book, brought to life with no time or budget constraints (no missing Tom Bombadils or scouring of the Shires this time), and any additions would be understandable concessions to the film medium.

Sadly, Peter Jackson removed almost as much material as he added (which was a lot), and all with a blithe senselessness that left me very, very angry.  Tiny tidbits from the book, certain individual lines, props and scenes were a pittance, tossed at the audience as if they were generous concessions, a sort of shoulder nudge for the fans, “see, we read the same book as you” thing, while the larger portion of dialogue and plot details were straight from a movie trope library.  There is much I could have forgiven in a shorter film from an unproven director, but this is 3 hours of Peter Jackson doing Tolkien – it has to be so bad in order to be bad.  And it was.

Bilbo who?

Bilbo who?

Over and over, the film disregarded actual drama and interest straight from the book in favour of tired, shallow cliches:

  • For example, instead of exploring the psyche of dwarves and their dubious motivation for the quest, everything was blamed continually on the idea of “omens” and it being “the right time,” like that explains anything.  Bilbo’s little Hallmark speech about how he wanted the dwarves to have a home and sense of belonging was pathetic and gratuitous.  Sorry, the dwarves were totally in it for the gold and revenge and sense of belonging be damned.  And Bilbo didn’t even want to be there most of the time.
  • Any drama surrounding the Eagles (…was it a rescue or a take-out lunch…) was replaced with “Oh no, Thorin’s deadish, I mean, he looks kind of dead, his eyes are closed, gee, I hope he’s not dead… of course he’s not, because apparently he’s the main fekking character in this film.”
  • Instead of letting Bilbo simmer in the psychological discomfort of his uncertain position in the company of adventuring dwarves, gradually proving himself as his character changes and grows (which is, indeed, the entire point of the story), the film first treats him as a bystander, then has him randomly save Thorin’s life, earning the chief dwarf’s goodwill and dispelling the drama of Bilbo’s position with one boring cliche.  In fact, all the book’s little revealing psychological insights into Bilbo that make the reader love, empathise with and understand him are completely absent from the movie.

So much was needlessly and painfully spelled out:

And get this, folks, it actually turns BLUE when goblins are around!  Blue, blue, BLUE!

And get this, folks, it actually turns BLUE when goblins are around! Blue, blue, BLUE!

  • For example, the audience supposedly couldn’t be trusted to understand the joke when Bilbo slips up, describing himself to the trolls as “a bur – a hobbit,” so it’s changed to “a burgler hobbit,” which isn’t a joke anymore at all, it’s just stupid.
  • It was carefully explained that Sting burned blue in the presence of Goblins, when the few people not already aware of this could easily have been shown it, not told.
  • The audience had to actually see Gollum drop the ring.  This took away the sense of mystery and discovery that is so enjoyable about the original scene in the book.

Many details from the book that would have been easy to include in a movie of this length and budget were glaringly disregarded.  No coloured, hooded cloaks on the dwarves, no wet and weary pony rides with Bilbo reminiscing about his cozy hobbit hole (not for the first time), few songs, no blue, red and green pine cone firebombs from Gandalf, no darkness in the Goblin tunnels, no Glamdring and Orcrist flashing about during the fights, no this, no that.  But here, have some random scenes featuring Radagast hugging a hedgehog.

No review is complete without addressing positive aspects and I have to say that the riddle scene was quite brilliant.  I thought that it was well-done, entertaining, funny and delightfully consistent with the portrayal of Gollum in the LotR films.  It almost made it worth watching the whole film.  Also, Martin Freeman did a very good job, though no doubt he was confused to see his name in the top billing, given the lack of focus on his character in the film.

Your mom wishes.

Your mom wishes.

In conclusion, sure, it was a spectacle, but then so is your mom doing a 3 hour long rendition of “Mein Heir,” complete with fishnet stockings and a chair of dubious stability.  Call me a purist, but I was hoping for something spectacular instead.

Notable WTF moments:

  •  the first 10 minutes of the film – like a giant screensaver slideshow of New Zealand, with the picture changing before you’ve had a good chance to look at it.  Then you remember what you came to your computer for but shaking the mouse doesn’t wake it up.
  • every single shot that was a direct re-enactment of a shot from LotR (Gandalf glowering/dimming the lights, the Ring falling onto Bilbo’s finger, the moth-whispering, etc.).  What kind of person includes homages to their movies in their own movie? The charitable assumption is that Jackson was in a rush or
    Peter Jackson's ego, gorillafied.

    Peter Jackson’s ego, gorillafied.

    suffering from amnesia or maybe just hated The Hobbit.  Otherwise, he is seriously misapplying the “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” quote and letting his ego go all King Kong on us.  I’m actually having a hard time believing that Jackson directed this at all; LotR was full of clever, interesting cinematography and beautifully composed shots, while The Hobbit is full of pans and copied material.

  • the moment I realised that Azog, who merits a one-sentence mention in The Hobbit (“Your grandfather Thror was killed, you remember, in the mines of Moria by Azog the Goblin” (24).  That’s it.  Oh, and a footnote on page 257), was destined to replace both Bilbo’s character development and the quest itself as the focus of the movie, while the Rivendell part (which occupied an entire chapter in the book) was about as long and interesting as a bathroom break.
  • the shaggy fat suits that were loosely Velcroed to what were otherwise, no doubt, quite acceptably pony-like ponies.
  • fart jokes in the troll scene.  Really?  And since when has any creature that considers sitting on dwarves to squash them into jelly an acceptable cooking method been worried about things like parasites?
  • the interminable episode where Radagast leads the goblins and wargs in spirals on an open plain around Thorin & Co. in an exhibition of what has to be the worst decoy technique ever.

    Thorin & Co arrive at Smarmdell, Kinkade style.

    Thorin & Co arrive at Smarmdell, where gay elves go to die (or rather, live forever).

  • Rivendell looking like a bad forgery of a Thomas Kinkade painting.
  • Galadriel dematerialising like some sort of Cheshire cat.  Also, the celestial choir gargling loudly in our ears during her first appearance.
  • the Gandalf/Elrond/Galadriel/Sauruman scene – so long, boring and pointless I can only assume it was done on purpose for reasons beyond my ken.
  • stone giants  – pre-SFX footage from the next Transformers movie.
  • the Goblin King’s high-pitched voice.  Add a Cheetos-stained white tank-top and his vibe would be complete.
  • the cosy, warm colour palette for all the goblin scenes, which suggested renovation not retreat as the best plan of action.  Seriously, brew me a cup of tea, light a nice fire, slap on some wallpaper and I’d never leave.
  • the whole goblin escape scene via rope bridges, etc., which was one Nicholas Cage look-alike away from being a very respectable remake of the last few scenes of National Treasure.
  • when I realised that someone got paid to write (and someone paid to deliver) the line “You’ve got to be joking,” uttered shortly after the deceased Goblin King fell on top of the company.  So many good lines from the book left unsaid and yet “You’ve got to be joking” will forever exist in this version of The Hobbit.  The screenwriters literally could not have picked a more cliched, banal phrase.  It just makes me want to cry.
  • Gandalf “healing” Thorin by muttering some sort of shopping list in the general direction of his forehead.  They both looked surprised when it worked.  In fact, the only entity that was thoroughly unsurprised was the audience.
  • the Azog fight at the end of the movie.  What, a story containing encounters with trolls, goblins, Gollum, wargs, giant spiders, unfriendly wood elves, and a dragon, ending with the Battle of Five Frickin’ Armies, needs some extra fight scenes?
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8 comments

  1. Dude Bumshak

    I enjoyed reading this! I too was thoroughly underwhelmed by this movie. It struck me as similar to the new Star Wars trilogy compared to the old. Lots of action and effects, but not nearly as much substance to keep you engaged. And does Peter Jackson no longer know how to craft a movie that’s a reasonable length? This did not need to be 2 hours and 45 minutes long!

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    • omniRambles

      I’m glad you enjoyed reading the review and that you had a similar impression of the movie! You make good points. Oh, the new Star Wars trilogy…thinking about it makes me sad and nauseated. I like a good, gratuitous action movie, but Tolkien fans deserve a little substance and character development too. And yes, I agree that The Hobbit was an unreasonable length for the amount of material it contained. I bet part II will come with some sort of medical disclaimer…”For optimum enjoyment of the film, please do not eat or drink for at least 12 hours prior to watching it…” or something like that. Or maybe an intermission halfway to make sure the audience is still alive?

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  2. Knlfuji

    We’ll re-visit this all over again once the box set hits the thrift stores and we watch the Director’s Cut with comments. I have a feeling it will be more about popular culture than tribute.

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  3. scomo

    I have not seen the movie, in fact I’ve passed up the opportunity twice, but I laughed out loud numerous times to this review. What a sharp writing whit you have, quite pithy. I enjoy a sarcastic writing style that doesn’t seem like the writer is taking themselves too seriously like so many of the stuffy film critics on RT. Thanks for saving me almost 3 hours of my life and for the laughs at Peter Jackson’s expense. Carry on this important work…

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    • omniRambles

      scomo!! Fancy seeing you here! Your thoughtful, encouraging comment made my day and since it’s Christmas, that’s saying a lot. It’s a relief to hear that my review didn’t read too pompous and I am extremely happy it made you laugh. Seriously, this is basically the most perfect, comprehensive compliment I’ve ever received for my writing. You’ve motivated me to write more reviews…

      Like

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