Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

by Peter Jackson


Given the source material, turning The Hobbit into not one but three good movies ought to be a challenge for anyone. The story is shorter and lighter than The Lord of the Rings, and it also has far less depth. At times Tolkien's book is little more than one beastly set of monsters after another, so it's no wonder the scriptwriters chose to embellish this movie with extras that aren't in the book.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is very comfortable in his hobbit hole when Gandalf (Ian McKellen) comes to visit and suggests an adventure. Bilbo refuses flatly, but not vehemently enough to persuade Gandalf he means it. The wizard invites a small tribe of dwarves to Bilbo's house. They're homeless, and their quest is to take back their home, the Lonely Mountain, from the dragon Smaug. They want Bilbo to be the last member of their party: the burglar. He's not keen, especially after they waltz in uninvited, raid his pantry, and chuck his crockery around.

However Bilbo surprises himself and everyone else by joining them. He has less at stake than everyone else, and it seems like he doesn't belong with them. The hobbit is no warrior, and their leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) thinks he's just an encumbrance and that he'll soon turn back.

The story takes in the trolls, wargs, and goblins, through Bilbo's fateful meeting with Gollum under the mountain, and up to the company's encounter with the giant eagles. It packs in a lot of action, but Bilbo's story is presented as just one part of a larger picture of evil growing in Middle Earth.

One of the things that disappointed me about the additions to the plot is that there's only one notable female character. That's Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), who we find being wise, serene and elegant along with the rest of the elves. Meanwhile the dwarves are all rowdy and beardy, the goblins are hideous fiends with extremely poor balance, the orcs are warlike and evil, and the trolls are hungry and dumber than a sack of cider. Bilbo is the only one who gets to defy the expectations of his quiet, comfort-loving kind, and then only because he's related to one of the adventurous Tooks. So we have rampant racial stereotyping, a plot that ignores women, and violence justified mainly because the enemy is funny-looking. All it lacks is prejudice against disabled people, say an incorrigibly wicked villain who happened to be missing an arm, and that would be all the -isms.

Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) makes an appearance as an addled, nature-loving wizard whose job is to look after the woods. With a beard full of bird poo and a sleigh pulled by rabbits he's undeniably eccentric, but this basically good character is neither as funny nor as interesting as his appearance promises.

Rather than allowing the wargs or eagles to speak, Peter Jackson and his scriptwriting team have introduced a new character, the Pale Orc Azog (Manu Bennett). He has a special grudge against Thorin, and he commands a team of orcs that ride the wargs (basically giant wolves that are all teeth and saliva). This gives more focus to the dwarves' quest because they have someone specific opposing them before they meet the dragon, and by not having talking animals the film is more consistent with the darker tone of Peter Jackson's other Lord of the Rings films.

In terms of the look, the movie lurches from ethereal beauty to hideousness, and the Great Goblin (Barry Humphries) was especially gross. The music is great, especially when the dwarves sing their mournful song, Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold. And at the end it's very stirring when they're all swinging swords and being brave. This movie looks and sounds the business, but there's something missing. Since there's so much action there isn't enough time for chat, so it's hard to distinguish the personalities of the dwarves other than Thorin. It's funny in parts, but even though it's quite long the film seems over-stuffed with hack and slash, at the cost of the dwarves' character development.

28th December 2012

Film Details

Year: 2012

Categories: Films


Classification: 12

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3 star rating

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