A Truly Unexpected Journey: A Review of The Hobbit, Part 1


Disclaimer: The following post contains spoilers from Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit. If you have not seen the movie and do not want to know what happens, please do not read further. Otherwise, I would enjoy a good debate on the following topic.

Like any Tolkien-crazed fanatic, I’ve been following the release of The Hobbit closely. From seeing pictures of canon and noncanon characters to rereading the book in preparation of watching the film, I’ve tried to keep up with the near-daily updates of the movie trilogy’s journey. Given the franchise success of The Lord of the Rings in the early 2000s, it can be expected than expectations ran high for the December 14th release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Was it worth the hype? Yes and no. Like all book adaptations, there was some good and some bad. But nothing ugly.

Overall reception of the movie has been ambiguous. Rotten Tomatoes has given The Hobbit  a percentage rating of 65%. The audience rating was significantly higher at 81%. From the website:

“Peter Jackson’s return to Middle-earth is an earnest, visually resplendent trip, but the film’s deliberate pace robs the material of some of its majesty.”

I tend to agree. I’ll delve into specifics later, but I’ll clarify my thoughts by saying the following: I tend to not judge movies by the books they portray. That usually only leads to disappointment. I try to hold to the same here, but I will admit, it is hard. Especially since I loved the original Lord of the Rings trilogy so much, I originally found myself cringing at the thought of additional material being added. So, to begin, here are some common questions/complaints and my thoughts on them.

1. The Dol Guldur Plot Line

I will preface this by saying I love and am well-versed in Tolkien lore. I’ve read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The HobbitThe Silmarillion, and other Tolkien works and am even guilty of participating in text-based roleplaying once in a blue moon. In the book, Tolkien made references to the Necromancer (Sauron before he regained strength in Mordor) as making his base in Dol Guldur, an abandoned fortress in the southern part of Mirkwood. At the time The Hobbit takes place, Sauron as the Necromancer is gaining strength and began planning an assault. True to canon, Gandalf left Thorin’s company in order to attend the White Council (a meeting between the high-and-mighties of Middle Earth). It is this same council we see in the movie.

As I mentioned above, I was leery on the addition because I was paying to see The Hobbit, not The Hobbit and the Rise of Dol Guldur. The book is light-hearted and humorous, written as a child’s tale…why bring in a much darker side story with little mention in the book itself? I shall address this train of thought below…

I will say, though, that the scene between Galadriel and Gandalf was arguably one of the most beautiful and poignant.

Image courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes
Image courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes
Image courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes
Image courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Cate Blanchett and Sir Ian McKellen perfectly reprised their respective roles as Galadriel and Gandalf. The tender moment shared between their characters surely has fueled fan fiction stories dedicated solely to this. On the other hand, it was one of those moments which caused the audience to hold their breath and appreciate the hypnotic beauty of Rivendell.

The addition of the Dol Guldur storyline pulls from Tolkien’s appendices, notes, and manuscripts and is one reasons that Jackson extended the original two films into three. How this ties into the rest of the trilogy remains to be seen. Personally, after seeing the movie twice (once in 3D and once in 2D), I have warmed to the idea of the plot, even if it means spending more time in Middle Earth (a bad thing?). This thought leads into my next point…

2. Do We Really Need a Trilogy?

When Peter Jackson announced that The Hobbit would be a trilogy, people raised a few eyebrows, and quite rightly so. The Hobbit is a relatively short book when compared to its sequel The Lord of the Rings. Did Jackson really need to alter the plot, and why would he want to in the first place?

Many people seem to believe that Jackson added a third movie to build on the already anticipated success of the franchise. Indeed, how many movies have we seen over the past few years which split themselves into at least two movies (i.e. Harry Potter and *shudder* Twilight)? But money was not just the reason, according to Jackson; it was the wealth of material and the fact The Hobbit had little background information for the potential uninformed reader.

In discussion about whether or not to film a third movie, Jackson responded that “we have an incredible source material with the appendices because ‘The Hobbit’ is obviously a novel but we also have the rights to use this 125 pages of additional notes where Tolkien expanded the world of ‘The Hobbit’…” In addition, Jackson admitted that he “just like[s] to tell stories”.

In fleshing out the back story, Jackson gives those of us who either have not read the book or understand Tolkien’s other allusions a reason things happen (i.e. why the Necromancer is a danger). Furthermore, it builds an overall much solider outline. There are those of you who may or will disagree with me on this, but I would rather have too much knowledge than too little canon material. Although Jackson makes some embellishments including the Pale Orc (Azog)/Thorin confrontation, much of what the movie portrays is canon.

On the other hand, I wish Jackson had lessened the extent of what he included in the movie. I am not saying that I dislike sitting through three hours of hobbit awesomeness because that is not the case. I rather think that there was too much darkness towards the middle of the movie rather than lightheartedness. Of course, others would argue that people may not take the movie seriously if there were all happy dwarves and merry singing.

Overall, I would much prefer spending nine hours in Middle Earth in three movies so long as the plotlines remain consistent over being left with lingering questions about the source material. (And don’t say, “you can always read the book”…that is besides the point and why I don’t like comparing books to movies…each medium has a different “visual” purpose…) I agree with why Jackson decided to make three movies, especially if the material being included is canon and not just useless fluff.

3. To 3D or Not to 3D…That is the Question!

I’ll keep this brief…DON’T see The Hobbit in 3D. I got the same chills and thrills from seeing it in 2D over 3D. There was really no point where I thought, “Holy wowzers, this movie is AWESOME in 3D.” If you had such an encounter where I didn’t, please comment. I am curious to see what you think!

I will be posting the remainder of my review tomorrow. Stay tuned!

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One thought on “A Truly Unexpected Journey: A Review of The Hobbit, Part 1”

  1. Amy, here is a couple of places where specifically you and I disagree;
    “Of course, others would argue that people may not take the movie seriously if there were all happy dwarves and merry singing.” They might, but they’d be wrong. That is exactly what the Hobbit as a book was, and it seem to have been pretty successful. Is there anyone out there saying “I want my Hobbit movies taken seriously!” ?
    ” I agree with why Jackson decided to make three movies, especially if the material being included is canon and not just useless fluff.” This is a matter of opinion….but you’re wrong. He didn’t need to add the canon, and he did add so much useless fluff. Well, that’s not true, he added harmful crap.
    And that is my issue with Peter Jackson’s movie. He added stuff. Plain and simple. I mean, who does he think he is? Oh, I know, he’s Peter Jackson, who can do no wrong, just like George Lucas.
    The Hobbit needed NOTHING added to it.
    Sure, some of what he added is Tolkien material, from The Silmarillion and other sources, but maybe there is a reason Tolkien did not cram all that in himself. And that reason is he wanted The Hobbit to be a simple, beautiful little story…not an epic in itself. The scene with Galadriel and Gandalf? Beautiful. Perfect. And that would have been enough. That scene gave us all the portent and foreshadowing we needed.
    Which means we could have done without every scene with Radagast in it. Aside from the fact that he was disgusting (a subjective opinion, for sure) his storyline added too much weight and drag to the film, to the extent it stole from the real story of The Hobbit. The Hobbit is not focused as a prelude to the trilogy. It’s not about Dol Guldur. It’s about Bilbo and some Dwarves. I mean, was there really a scene with a bunch of wargs chasing a guy covered in bird crap in a sled (sled?) drawn by rabbits in a field with dwarves running from rock to rock? Did I really see that? The only thing missing from that scene was Yakety Sax playing over it.
    I did like this qoute; “we have an incredible source material with the appendices because ‘The Hobbit’ is obviously a novel but we also have the rights to use this 125 pages of additional notes where Tolkien expanded the world of ‘The Hobbit’…” In addition, Jackson admitted that he “just like[s] to tell stories”. ie, “If I make 3 movies, that’s 3 times as much money. I like to tell stories! So much so, I can tell them better than Tolkien! Anyone who’s seen Bad Taste or Frighteners knows what a genius writer I am.”
    Arrogant jerk.
    Let’s go back to what The Hobbit is about. Bilbo, Dwarves, and Smaug. So much going on, it’s bad enough, bad enough, that Jackass added in stuff from the canon where Tolkien himself left it out, but he had the unmitigated gall, the arrogance, the sheer jackassery to add his own material and characters. No matter what, this was going to be a terrible idea. What in the world went through his mind when he decided, “Well, Tolkien did a good job, but, I can improve on this.” ?
    So, in no way would this have been good, but Jackass (I mean Jackson…..no, I was right before) added stupid asinine characters and scenes. By that I mean all the scenes with his arch enemy super orc with one arm, whose name I can’t be bothered to remember. Again, this was a stupid useless waste of screen time.
    But here’s where he did the real damage with this. The scene where the goblins chase the dwarves into the trees. At least, that’s what was supposed to happen. I guess the goblins get no more screen time, which leads me to believe we’ll see one armed jarjarbinksorc at the Battle of Five Armies where he and Thorin can face off finally for the 5th time. Instead of the book, we get the dwarves in the tree, but not threatened by fire. Thorin faces off against his arch enemy, and gets his ass handed to him, at which point Bilbo, the supreme warrior, saves him, and all the dwarves fight, and the eagles come and join in, after Gandalf has summoned them. Then the dwarves fly off from a fight that was basically a draw, and Thorin and Bilbo finally make amends
    Here is a short list of what went wrong;
    1) Bilbo vindicates himself. This happens too early. Bilbo in the book doesn’t come into his own until he faces the spiders, and there he becomes a fighter in a do or die situation, much more believably. Instead of here, where he helps Thorin to finally prove to Thorin he’s worthwhile, since all the dwarves are apparently unwilling or unable to help. This is far too much character development for Bilbo too early. This was all done so he and Thorin can make amends. I was ok with Thorin’s angst toward Bilbo; Tolkien was not the best writer at making characters come alive outside of their actions, so Jackson’s work here was the kind of artistic license I want producers to take, just, he went too far. Bilbo has crested too early. Now, fighting spiders and what not will be expected of him, and I can’t buy any future moments of terror or hesitation on his part.
    2) The eagles were robbed of their heroism. Apparently, they are only part of Gandalf’s personal aviary, unable to act of their own accord, just at his beck and call.
    3) Thorin was beat up and partially eaten, but I guess he can shrug that off.
    4) Part of the charm of the book was the fact that the dwarves were not “professionals” except in their comparison to Bilbo. They consistently make mistakes where Gandalf has to bale them out, and while the profess that they are veteran adventurers, they are not. So, here, instead of being helpless and cornered, in trees on fire surrounded by Goblins, they leave a fight via Eagleair. A fight it was not clear they were losing, it may have been a draw, they may have won. The dwarves here are portrayed in a much better light than they are in the book. Too bad, the book was a lot more fun when you think that the main characters are have some tendency to bumble, instead of being perfectly cool professionals that I guess they are.
    I understand Amy’s point about not comparing the book to the movie. Sure, that will usually let you down, but let’s get real, who ISN’T going to do so in this case? Anyway, usually the complaint is in what the movie left out, even when you know cuts have to be made. I mean, I missed Tom Bombadil and the Barrow Downs in Fellowship, but if Jackson had left everything in, we’d still be watching those movies. Here the horrific crime was not in what he cut, but in what he put in. With all the material he had, why add canon where Tolkien didn’t and why oh why add in crappy characters and additional story lines. With that said, if you haven’t read the book, and/or you’re 7 years old, it will be a good movie.
    I could go on, but let me instead finish by saying I’m glad I’ll be able to save the time and money by avoiding the other two movies in this tragic trilogy.

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