Every Good Story Deserves to Be Embellished.
I had a perplexing amount of trepidation when it came to choosing to see today’s movie. I don’t really know what it was though. I had very much enjoyed the other three movies directed by the director of this movie and based on the books by the same author, but seeing that today’s movie was released did nothing to inspire me to see it. So how did I end up watching it? Complete dumb coincidence. I went to the theaters with an intention to make it a double feature and, when I left the first movie and checked the show times for the next movie, it happened to be exactly the time this movie was starting. That either had to be a sign from the heavens or just some random coincidence. Well nothing else really struck me as worth waiting around for, so I got my ticket and sat down to watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, based on a novel by J. R. R. Tolkien, written for the screen by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro, directed by Peter Jackson, and starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Graham McTavish, Ken Stott, Aiden Turner, Dean O’Gorman, Mark Hadlow, Jed Brophy, Adam Brown, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Sylvester McCoy, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Elijah Wood.
The kingdom of Erebor is overrun by the dragon, Smaug, drawn to their kingdom by the gold they’ve amassed, and destroying the town of Dale on the way. The king’s grandson, Thorin (Richard Armitage), is one of the survivors of the attack. Later, the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) brings a party of 13 Dwarves, including Thorin, to the house of an unsuspecting Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) in hopes of getting Bilbo to join their mission to reclaim Erebor. He refuses at first, but Gandalf appeals to his adventurous side and the group embark on their quest. Along the way, they encounter Trolls, Orcs, Elves, and tales of a necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch) in the fortress Dol Guldur.
This movie made me very angry, but I suppose the bulk of it is my own fault. I probably should’ve found out something about this movie before going in, but I went into it with no more information than I had before I even knew the movie was a possibility. I had seen the cartoon a long time ago, and I guess I assumed that Peter Jackson was able to fit the entire story into one three hour movie. The book was only 310 pages, and I figured one minute per page was not necessarily out of the question. Peter Jackson, on the other hand, apparently felt that it needed to be made into its own trilogy somehow. The other thing I knew about the original movie was that a big part of the movie was the dragon, Smaug, so I also figured this dragon would be in this movie at all! When this long ass trudge of a movie was about 20 minutes away from finishing, I was wondering how they were going to complete the Smaug storyline so quickly, not knowing that it was not their intention to finish that story in this movie, or even to involve that story. It wouldn’t have felt as bad if I felt they filled their movie appropriately, but a lot of it felt like wasted time. The numerous side missions that they embarked on as they headed to the mountain made me realize why these Lord of the Rings movies are 12 hours a piece. Also contributing to that is Jackson’s apparent love for scenes of people walking. That joke from Clerks 2 now has some more ammunition after this movie.
All that being said, there were a pretty good amount of things that were done right in this movie. It surprises no one to find that this movie is a visual delight. We’ve seen that out of Jackson at least three times already. I would say that it occasionally felt recycled as some of the scenes of the Dwarves running over mountaintops looked exactly like similar scenes of the Fellowship of the Ring running over mountaintops in the first three movies. It’s generally completely epic in scale, but even the smaller details are impressive. I thought the pale Orc’s prosthetic arm was too scrawny and not intimidating the first time I saw it, but then I realized that it was kind of badass when I realized that it was actually shoved all the way through the stump of his forearm. And I liked one of the really epic scenes (that also technically had no real story impact at all) where they were going through the mountains and the mountains kind of got up and started punching each other (not a joke). I liked this because it kind of felt like I was watching a God of War level. The action (when it happened) was usually very well done. I especially liked the Dwarves’ escape from Orc Mountain. The humor of this movie was mostly lost on me, being mostly slapstick or as simple as, “This one Dwarf is fat! Isn’t that hilarious?!” They did have a couple of moments that worked really well, though, such as Gandalf’s story about the creation of golf. I couldn’t blame them too much because this movie felt like it was almost trying to be a children’s movie, but it also felt like it was a little too slow and dark in parts for the younger audience.
The cast does a mostly fine job in this movie. I really like Martin Freeman, and he was able to bring a good deal of comedy with small mannerisms in his performance. He also got a few moments of true badassdom near the end of the movie, which I didn’t necessarily expect out of Bilbo. Ian McKellen is Ian McKellen. No point even bothering to say that dude is awesome. I did think he was generally used as a sort of deus ex machina during the movie, disappearing for long stretches of time and popping in at the last minute to save the team when Tolkien may have written himself into a corner. “We’ll just keep amping this scene up more and more until eventually everyone is at the mercy of a group of Trolls and there’s no hope for salvation.” “Then what?” “Uh…Gandalf…?” “…It’ll do…” I didn’t take issue with Sylvester McCoy’s performance of Radagast the Brown, but I did generally feel as if all of the time I spent with that character was a waste of my time. If all parts involving him were dropped out of the movie, no one would notice. And the movie would be about a half hour shorter. And he did the shittiest job of leading the Orcs away from the Dwarves. He brought them on nearly intersecting paths with the fleeing Dwarves like 20 times. How about this? If you want to lead a group away from another group, go in the opposite direction. Try that out next time. I also appreciated that they had reappearances from every character they could logically fit into the movie. Elijah Wood is in this for a little bit, Hugo Weaving comes back, Cate Blanchett returns as that overly creepy Elf chick, Christopher Lee pops in for a bit, and Gimli is technically in this movie as well, but only because his father Glóin is one of the Dwarves and I assume Gimli was in his balls somewhere.
I found myself a little bit embittered by some of the things in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, but overall I’d say it was a pretty good movie. It’s way too long and it felt like they wasted too much time, even though they apparently felt that the story could not be contained to one (or even two) movies, but the epic scale and great action (when it happens) make it passable. So long as you’re more patient than I am and go in knowing that the stuff you might know about the Hobbit don’t actually happen in this movie, you should be fine seeing it in theaters. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey gets “True courage is not about knowing when to take a life … but when to spare one” out of “A dark power has found a way back into the world.”
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