Film #71: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.director: Peter Jackson
language: English, Sindarin, Black Speech
length: 169 minutes (2 hours 49 minutes)
watched on: 18 December 2012

The Hobbit has always been one of my favourite books. I’m not so much of a fan of Lord of the Rings, if I’m honest, because Tolkien’s prose gets a bit thick after only a short while and it can be difficult to read, but The Hobbit was written for children, and I read it as a child and very much enjoyed it. So of course I had to go to see this movie.

I think perhaps the first thing to mention about the movie is that I’m terribly disappointed at the decision to split it into three. It’s an increasingly annoying trend recently – they also did it for Harry Potter and Twilight – and here I can’t seem to find a justification other than that they wanted to make another Lord of the Rings style trilogy out of the Hobbit. Peter Jackson made a kind of weak justification when he said that The Hobbit’s basic structure already contains multiple climaxes. OK, that sort of almost makes sense, but the advertised subtitle for the second movie is “The Desolation of Smaug”… and after that, what even is there? I think Bilbo’s journey home only encompasses at most two chapters.

But anyway, just about as bad is the decision to make the film 3 hours long. More than two hours just to get to Gollum’s scene (easily the best in the movie) is a bit much, to be honest. Jackson managed this by using the appendices from The Return of the King, so it’s all “canon” material, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s useful or interesting to have it in the movie. One exception I might make to that would be the council in Rivendell where Galadriel and Saruman appear to warn Gandalf of what’s to come – for me this fit well with the movie, but the stuff involving the other wizard, Radagast, on the way to Rivendell, could easily have been excised, and the time spent in Hobbiton could easily have been cut in half without affecting the story.

I did think it was a good film in general, though, besides the unnecessary extra stuff. Other places where the narrative suffers are exactly the same places as where the narrative suffers in the book: for one thing, a huge surplus of dwarf characters, who mostly don’t get enough character development to justify their existence beyond being an inconvenience to Bilbo. For another, the mother of all dei ex machinis at the end of the film (the middle of the book) when the eagles come.

Good things in the movie include the goblins (the king was excellently animated, but surprised me with his eloquence), the orcs speaking lines of Black Speech, plus basically any scene that was lifted as-is straight out of the book, such as the troll scene.

Gollum was, as I mentioned, the best part, as we get to see some fine acting from Serkis – particularly the exact point at which Gollum realises his own mistake and suddenly is no longer master of his domain. Again, his scene was lifted straight from the book, so it flows much better than those parts that were added later by Tolkien in the appendices.

I think I want to recommend this movie, but with major caveats, of course. It’s not the movie I think it could have been, but I’m certainly glad it exists now.

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