HST…Film Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyZac: Eleven years after we were first whisked away to Middle Earth, Peter Jackson is taking us back with The Hobbit. While it might not match it’s LOTR predecessors, it is still a joy to be back in this world and on another adventure through new and familiar corners of Middle Earth.

Lauren:  …says Zac.

With The Lord of the Rings trilogy as a constant comparison as to what to expect from this world, The Hobbit already finds itself at a disadvantage that it refuses to acknowledge.  Instead it does what it wants, creating a different tone upon entry that feels like this is the story you tell the children who are too young to watch the more adult adventure with the rest of the family.

A lot of this has to do with the dwarves, who have taken a break from helping Snow White in their happy go lucky Disney home to set out and win back the mountainous kingdom once stolen from them by a greedy dragon with an eye for shiny bits of gold.  But not before taking time out to sing and dance and eat everything in Bilbo Baggin’s home [side note – it should be noted that one of my biggest pet peeves is when people take other’s food without asking.  It doesn’t even have to be mine.  When I see anyone take food that belongs to someone else, be prepared to get a fork in the hand], the hobbit of this story, with over the top merriment.  We’ve got Sneezy, we’ve got Grumpy, we’ve got Burpy, we’ve got Fatty, we’ve got Bald Spot Monk, etc., all making for a rather childish intro that set up characters that I dreaded spending more time with.  These are the warriors that are going to take on a dragon?

Zac: When did you become such a curmudgeon?  I didn’t feel the film was different in tone compared to LOTR at all. Times are lighter and brighter in Middle Earth, but I don’t think the film separates itself tonally in the slightest.  And to write off all of these dwarves so easily is sort of missing the point of their party; most of them aren’t ready for the big battle.  In fact, I feel like we didn’t get to know enough about all of these guys and what they have or haven’t been through (already looking forward to the thirty minute longer extended cut!).

I would say we get a decent grasp of about five of the dwarves, and I loved a couple of them based on just the visual bits we got surrounding them.  Thorin, Balin and Dwalin are our three fighters, and we get to see them fight in the film’s excellent flashbacks, but I really enjoyed Kili’s ability to step up to the plate with his bow as we see some actual growth in his character.  Bofur also is a very likable personality as well, and I think Jackson did a pretty great job at giving most of the thirteen dwarves a bit of distinct personality traits.  It’s like HBO’s Band of Brothers, I am sure the more watches the easier it will be to identify with these guys, and I hope the extended cut really fleshes out the group even further for us before we get to the last two films in The Hobbit.  This has all been a very long winded defense of basically saying, I like the dwarves.

I like Master Baggins even more though, as I think Martin Freeman has already cemented himself as the best hobbit performance out of all the films set in Middle Earth.  He is funny, smart, brave, and does a fantastic job showing his distress being thrown into this very dangerous situation.  Freeman is just such an easy personality to warm up to that it really helped pull us into the world again and remind us how out of place a hobbit is outside of The Shire.

Lauren:  Ooooo… Don’t let Heather hear you say that Bilbo is better than her Samwise… She might cut you.

It’s not completely the dwarves’ fault about how I feel towards this one in terms of tone, though I will definitely agree that maybe things would be different had they been given more personalities of their own instead of just being an amoebous blend of slight variations of the same rounded face (seriously, the character design felt kind of lazy to me with this, as most of these characters, as well as other creatures, can be characterized as bulbous bodies with rounded, pale features).  And I understand they aren’t all supposed to be warriors, but show me one moment in which they actually seem at a disadvantage in this realm.  I never felt worried for any of them, with no stakes ever being pushed throughout the movie’s entirety.

Eventually as the film goes on it does begin to feel more like the others (especially once we get to the span of time with Gollum), as well as at random moments throughout, such as with the brief scene introducing The Necromancer, or with the elves simply because they are a connection to the future story, but for the most part I just felt like each of the earlier scenes’ layouts was followed by someone asking: “Now how can we get a child to laugh at this?”  How about dimwitted mountain trolls who scratch their butts and have problems with snot, or a really fat dwarf that burps and breaks chairs (who is only outweighed by an even fatter goblin, which of course is used for numerous jokes as well), and a wizard with bird poop dried to his face and a bobsled connected to rabbits.  Rabbits!  I swear by the last point we saw that stupid contraption I was begging the orcs’ wolf-like mounts to eat them all.

Zac: The comic relief in the film was no worse, and didn’t really bother me at all, than some of the stuff surrounding Gimli in The Two Towers and Return of the King.  Seriously, go rewatch those movies. Fellowship was tonally perfect, and then all of a sudden Gimli is a walking joke, borderline ruining the character as he destroys the tension in almost every big moment of the final two LOTR films.

I would say An Unexpected Journey actually gave me a couple of genuinely big belly laughs and one maybe not so intentional; Zipline Goblin!

Lauren: Granted, at least these earlier scenes were given time to breathe as our merry band got on its way and the characters settled into each other, coming across different parts of the world as they went.  Action was of course littered throughout this as well, but about halfway through the film switched so that the action seemed to take the majority of the storytelling and progression instead of character moments or anything of the like.  Once they find themselves on a mountain pass during a storm (that of course is made into dueling mountains because nothing can just be simple in this one) the action never stops smacking the viewer in the face until the final scene of the film that mirrors The Fellowship of the Ring’s end, and by this point I think I was more exhausted than the dwarves.

Zac: I thought the point you are referring too is where the film finally found its footing after an awkwardly paced journey up till that point. I felt a lot of the character stuff that was probably cut early on the film lends to this somewhat choppy flow of the film, but once it got down to business things got pretty damn fun.

Lauren:  Nope, I prefer the pace of the earlier half, tone of the latter.

Zac:  Enough of all that, let’s get into the technical aspects of the film which are about as good as one could hope for, except the whole 48 FPS thing; see our write up on that here.  The effects are incredible, the motion capture perfect, and the sets and costumes help make this feel from the exact same film world Jackson created 11 years ago.  I think seeing the film at 24 FPS might even help further cement the look of the film (again, see here) and I will be revisiting it in that format sometime this weekend.

Lauren:  Agreed completely.  See the film in the regular frame rate because as you will see in the other write up, I truly believe that the level of distraction brought on by the higher 48 FPS rate ruined the movie for me and I was never truly able to settle into it.  I’m not saying I would have loved the movie had I seen it differently, but it definitely wouldn’t be starting at such a disadvantage.

Zac:  The acting is also solid beyond the aforementioned Freeman, with Ian McKellan easily stepping back into the shoes of Gandalf the Grey.  Andy Serkis is also, again, incredible as Gollum, and it’s a shame this is probably all we will see of him in this trilogy.  Richard Armitage and Ken Stott are the standout dwarves as Thorin and Balin, respectively, with Armitage being a pretty commanding presence that fits the character wonderfully.  Graham McTavish, James Nesbitt, and Aidan Turner also shine out of the dwarves with the other returning faces like Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee and Hugo Weaving successfully recreating their roles. I wish Lee Pace had something to do in this one as well, as he was awesome for the five wordless seconds on screen as elven king Thranduil.

Lauren:  Yeah, I definitely need to see this again because I cannot put any of those new names to faces, which is a major problem to have.  Maybe had they stood out more though…

In the end, whether it was because of the rough start brought on by the 48 FPS or the childish tone that had me annoyed with the main characters of the film before we even got to know them (though we really never do that well), I found The Hobbit greatly lacking, especially knowing that The Lord of the Rings came from the mind of the same writer (though the book had much added to it in this adaptation considering how short it is) and was brought to the big screen by the same director, and I cannot believe that there is still probably a good 6 hours to go in this journey.  It’s going to be a long one…

Zac: LOTR fans shouldn’t let Lauren fret you. You want to see this, you’re going to see it and most likely you are going to enjoy it.  If you are new to the series I would direct you to start with the previous trilogy before checking out this prequel. As it goes for The Hobbit, color me optimistic for parts two and three as I think An Unexpected Journey has gotten most of the setup taken care of and we can get on with the adventure.

Lauren’s Final Grade:  C
Zac’s Final Grade: B+

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