Film Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Director: Peter Jackson (2012)
One day I’ll be well known for being a respected filmmaker (via being a part of Happy Fingers Productions) who also writes reviews, and fights crime, and is an astronaut, and spends his nights drowning in pussy. It’ll be bold statements like the following that get me there……..
The Lord of the Rings is a boring book.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a terrible book or 3 or possibly 6, at its best The Lord of the Rings is just a slightly boring story about an occasionally exciting walk involving spiders and a guy named Sam. That’s more than some books ever manage. It’s just that at its worse The Lord of the Rings is a book so boring it’s biblical. At any given moment some guy (and it’s always a guy) might burst out in an unfathomable song and even worse are the pages and pages of so and so had a son, who had a son called so and so, who went on to have another son called so and so, who met some elves and then had a son.
The Hobbit on the other hand is a great little book, much shorter and less indulgent than The Lord of the Rings it’s the book for the casual fantasy reader who doesn’t give a shit what different words are in Elf. When I heard Peter Jackson and Guillermo Del Toro had signed (then unsigned, then been racist, then finally sorted out their problems with horse breeders) and were going to make it, I was pretty excited. Then it was announced it was going to be a trilogy combined with Silmarillion and excitement turned to consternation (thanks once again word a day calendar). Silmarillion for those who don’t know (and believe me there’s no shame in that) is a Tolkien ‘novel’ released posthumously. It’s a timeline of Middle-Earth and is renowned for being so boring and bogged down in its own importance it makes Lord of the Rings look like a racy Dan Brown novel, or rather that one racy novel Dan Brown writes over and over again. Effectively a history book, the only reason Silmarillion exists is to give hardcore Tolkienists (I checked, that’s what they call themselves) something to separate themselves from common folk. Read the Silmarillion? Yes, then what was the name of so and so who the gods did such and such to before the coming of the I don’t give two shits age?
The combination of a short enjoyable book with one so turgid wasn’t the most welcome of film news, but it was Peter Jackson, and the Lord of the Rings was a good shout, plus I needed something to go to the cinema to see with my cool Mum and Dad who can handle the truth (plus Nathan McKinstrie of the vault of horror fame and a girl who for some inexplicable reason can put up with me as a boyfriend) and lo it was so that we ventured to see The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey, at The Showroom cinema no less, cause fuck 3D, fuck it in it’s stupid clean boring dull set piece face.
Martin Freeman (who HFP contributor Jim Haginson always reminds me of) plays Bilbo Baggins, actually that’s not quite accurate. Ian Holm (one of the finest actors to ever play an android) reprises his role as Bilbo Baggins from The Lords of the Rings trilogy, but he’s old, so they do a transition to Freeman, even though Freeman isn’t exactly the reincarnation of a spring chicken………………..anyway Freeman plays young Bilbo Baggins, or indecisive Bilbo Baggins if you like to name versions of Bilbo Baggins by their dominant personality trait, so that’s Martin Freeman, who if you need reminding, plays Bilbo Baggins.
Also reprising a role from The Lord of the Rings but not finding himself replaced by someone younger is Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf the Grey. Gandalf the Grey was killed in The Lord of the Rings by a fall or a Balrog or something, and then reincarnated as Gandalf the White, this may well have been the turning point in the battle between good and evil, because Gandalf the Grey is a prick.
He begins by showing up at Young Bilbo’s house and vandalising his door. Fans of vandalism, and quests to retrieve lost mountains from a dragon, some dwarves show up and promptly eat every bit of food Bilbo owns, then sing a bit, then take ages to explain the same motives I just summed up in a poorly constructed sentence. E—-v—e—n—t—u—a—l—-l—y Young Bilbo decides to join the dwarves on their merry quest and signs a contract saying as much, some horse riding later and there’s a stop off on a cliff face for some plot building.
The leader of the group of Dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage with a beard) is the grandson of a dwarf who went crazy collecting gold and ended up losing a mountain of it to a dragon with the unfortunate name Smaug. The dwarves decided to try living in a different mountain (Moria from The Lord of the Rings) but encountered a massive CGI battle with orcs instead. During the battle Thorin cut off the hand of the Orc leader Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennet apparently). For some reason Thorin’s pretty sure cutting Azog’s hand off killed him, but actually it created the Orc version of Captain Hook determined to hunt down the little so and so who cut off his hand, only without the crocodile-clock stuff.
Elsewhere there’s some Silmarillion crap about a Brown Wizard (for the record the tally is one white wizard, one grey one, one brown one and two blue ones, so it would seem the Wizarding approach to colour coding was the inspiration for Jingle all the Way Karate belts) who has a sled pulled by rabbits and a problem with a spider infestation. He’s imaginatively named Radagast the Brown (which is still better than Smaug) and is played by Sylvester McCoy, a man whose portrayal of Doctor Who was so bad it took sixteen years (and a terrible movie) for the BBC to be willing to bring the show back again.
Aside from spiders Radagast has some problem with a necromancer who may or may not be played by Benedict Cumberbatch, which leads to a girly looking dead Ringwraith thing, a sword and a meeting where the elf characters Elrond (Hugo ‘Smith’ Weaving) and Galadriel (She of the intense stare, Cate Blanchett). Oh, and Christopher Lee, who I honestly thought was dead (and for the record am glad he’s not) reprising his role as The White Wizard Saruman. Sadly Lee plays Saruman far too closely to Count Dooku for comfort.
Also the Dwarves journey to the Dragon Smaug (shudder) involves Goblins (including a King nicely voiced by Barry Humphries) and that Gollum dude (Andy Serkis who was amazing as Ian Dury in Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll). Gollum’s part is thankfully brief, but sadly will no doubt lead to drunk people doing a terrible impression that repeats the phrase ‘Precious’ over and over again.
Plot Summary ends.
Doesn’t seem like a particularly detailed plot summary does it? That’s because it’s not, for all its hype, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is as stretched as that limo in The Mask. Some Dwarves are going to fight a Dragon and that’s it, maybe that’s why the beginning is so freakishly drawn out (although there’s a nice cameo by Elijah Wood that intelligently ties The Hobbit trilogy to The Lord of the Rings).
Also, you may have noticed I haven’t really described the Dwarves, that’s because apart from Thorin Oakenshield, whose name is repeated and character given depth, the only dwarves I can describe are the old one, the big one, the fat one, the two homosexual ones, that one played by James Nesbitt and the other ones……….. sounds a bit Snow White doesn’t it? Actually it might not be that bad, the Dwarves are well cast, it’s just no effort is made to give them anything but the most basic of characters, oh and they sing about cleaning, sounds even more Snow White doesn’t it? Anyway, if they really are going to stretch the tiny book that is The Hobbit for two more films, there’s going to be a hell of a lot of filler so maybe there’ll be time to give the little tykes characters then.
Question; is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey worth a watch? Well yes and no. Yes because its well cast, well-acted, sounds great and has some nice scenes. Martin Freeman is a perfect Young Bilbo and Peter Jackson and company are the only writing team I can think of who can take a popular novel, deviate from it massively (eliminating entire characters, changing timelines or reducing a meeting between Dwarves and Elves to a pissing contest rather than say the first meeting of the two races in years where many jokes are made about beards) and yet still seem to totally respect the source material. For all the stretching genuine care seems to have been taken to be true to The Hobbit the book. Stay tuned for the next paragraph explaining the No.
No because everything considered, The Hobbit is a bit, well boring. The beginning takes forever for no real discernible reason, there will probably be a drinking game involving a shot being taken every time Gandalf takes forever to tell a character to be kind, considerate and a good person. The most boring/disappointing thing though is the action. Let me explain that statement by starting with a tangent. In fantasy the basic rule is the good side wins (unless it’s Game of Thrones, then no one wins except the author who fucking trod water for two books and still got paid). It’s hard to create jeopardy in a story where we know goods going to win. The trick is to convince us it might not. This is usually achieved by creating a group of likeable characters and then giving the impression that some of them will die. Tolkien did this in The Lord of the Rings by killing the character Boromir (expertly cast as Sean Bean in the films, because if Sean Bean dies in your film, by the rules of the known universe it has to be a good film). Boromir’s death creates the scenario of every character potentially being expendable, which creates tension. I know this is basic story-telling but it’s important, especially when you consider the fact that in the Lord of the Rings films the battles were epic, huge scale things involving massive armies, so even if say at Helm’s deep no main character actually died, you were still concerned for them and entertained by being shown a massive battlefield littered with the deaths of nameless soldiers on both sides.
The Hobbit is a small scale story, at its core it’s basically thirteen dwarves, a midget and a man who would be ostracised in today’s world for being a bit too like Jimmy Savile going for a walk to a mountain. The action in the film should be similarly small in scale, sadly it isn’t. There’s one particular battle in a place imaginatively called Goblin Town that illustrates why this is such a failing. A couple of thousand Goblins (and a king) battle the group for a good ten minutes and yet don’t score a single kill. I can understand not wanting to stick your neck above the parapet so much as to prematurely kill a character, but the only reason all the deaths are kept to the end, oh wait………….
Spoiler, there will be deaths at the end
Where was I, oh yeah, the only reason all the deaths are kept to the end in the book is because the book is short. If The Hobbit had been as long as The Lord of the Rings you can bet your bottom dollar Tolkien would have had some character cash his chips in early, and there’d probably have been more singing as well. By not killing any of the characters off, but persisting with hordes of goblins, the goblins suffer what I call the Star Wars Droid Army effect. They become so useless they present no threat and the audience just ends up waiting for them to stop bothering the heroes so something interesting can happen.
That’s what happens in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, there’s no jeopardy so the action becomes long and boring, taking up time that the film’s already short of thanks to its loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong beginning. There were a ton of battles in The Hobbit involving the likes of Dwarves, goblins, Orcs on wolves, Orc Captain Hook, Trolls, Rock Giants, Giant Eagles, Elves and a Wizard, yet when I think back only two of those fights spring to mind. One is a flash-back and the other involves a one on one sequence between Captain Hook and Thorin, that’s not a good ratio of action to interest for any film, especially a fantasy one that’s only being made because its predecessors in the series are held in high enough esteem to be called some of the greatest action films in modern times.
A cynic could be forgiven for thinking The Hobbit trilogy is just an exercise in milking as much money as possible from The Lord of the Rings fan base, I don’t think that necessarily rings true, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an ok film, just far too long. Care has been taken and it’s better to be a boring film that did it’s best than a lazy one. Effort has been made to try and entertain, it’s just the sheer amount of padding required to produce a trilogy from such a small book was always going to be a hindrance. Bottom line though, when I think about it, I’m intrigued to see what they do with next instalment, so I suppose you could say the film does its job.
I’ll end on a line from the film which I hope applies to the rest of the franchise. It’s said by a dwarf right at the end…………..
‘I think the worst is behind us’
In the context of the story it’s an absolutely inane thing to say considering the group’s about to go face to face with a terribly named dragon whose track record involves the deaths of hundreds of said dwarf’s kinsmen, but in the context of the trilogy I’m hoping that’s Peter Jackson’s message to the audience and the next two will be a better watch.
Written by Sam ‘killed Balrog easily but always struggled against Vega’ McKinstrie
Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP
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