Well, putting those two colons in that one sentence was pretty awkward….
My family and I went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in the cinema about a week and a half ago. I realise I’m one of the late-comers to watching the film, but hey, we get the movies later in our local cinema. Anyway, in order to get a proper context as to what perspective I am writing this review from, you should know that I hadn’t read The Hobbit when I saw the film. I’m reading it now (130 pages in and loving it), but at that time I only knew as much about the book as I had gleaned from online reviews and what Tilly (who had read most of the book) had told me. It’s true that I did know quite a bit about the film, such as who was playing whom and the overall plot; however, I know not all of you reading this will. So here’s a brief summary:
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first in a soon-to-be three-part series of films from the makers of the Lord of The Rings movies, based on the book by J. R. R. Tolkien. It follows Bilbo Baggins, a homely hobbit dragged out of his comfortable hobbit hole in the Shire by the wizard Gandalf and a crew of 13 dwarves. The latter take Bilbo along on a quest to take back the Lonely Mountain – former home to the dwarves – from its current resident: the fearsome dragon Smaug.
There’s really a lot more to it, what with side-plots involving Radagast the Brown, Azog the Defiler (I know – I would run too), and Fili and Kili’s fledgling Middle Earth boy band. Okay, I’m joking about the last one, but you get the idea. If you want to know more, I suggest you look up about it. Or better yet, read the book and/or see the film. As in now. For the time being, here’s my relatively spoiler-free review.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and the look of The Hobbit is definitely worth a mention at least, so I’ll start with that. The Hobbit comes from the same people who produced Lord of the Rings, plus it was also filmed New Zealand. Put this together, and the new movie is predictably gorgeous. There are fantastic sweeping camera shots of Middle Earth’s breathtaking scenery, as you’d expect, but when you add to that the best modern CGI and top quality video………it really is a sight to behold.
Also on the looks front, I thought the character design was excellent. Gandalf strikes the perfect balance between looking a bit run-down and completely legendary, whilst Bilbo Baggins sticks out as neat and tidy (at first) among the dwarves. Speaking of which, the dwarves’ costumes were great. The filmmakers did a great job of giving each dwarf a distinct look, so even when I was getting confused about their names, it was easy to tell them apart by sight. Although some look more similar than others, several stood out as having particularly unique designs: Bombur is huge with an orange, plaited beard; Balin has bushy eyebrows and great white beard; Bofur has a hat with big, floppy ears. That said, they all had their own distinctive characteristics.
In general, I thought the dwarves were done very well. Whilst in Lord of the Rings most of the dwarves shown appeared basically the same as Gimli – although this is not surprising when they didn’t feature as prominently – the dwarves in The Hobbit are about as different from each other as individual hobbits are from other hobbits. Oin and Gloin are rather Gimli-esque, but this is not the case for all of them. Fili and Kili stand out as one example. The whole topic of their looks was probably going to come up in this post at some point, so it might as well be now. Even though I don’t personally find them especially attractive, I know a lot of people watching The Hobbit have. My point here is that you only have to see one photo of the two of them (particularly Kili) to see that they don’t look like how popular culture would usually describe a dwarve as looking like. In fact, someone who didn’t know about The Hobbit probably wouldn’t know that the boys were meant to be dwarves at all, were it not for their stature and clothing. Granted, they are the most extreme example, but Fili and Kili fairly well demonstrate that the dwarves in this film vary widely in appearance.
I think we’ve all probably had enough of talking about looks for now (except maybe Kili/Fili fangirls – here, I found this link especially for you), so let’s move on to the metaphysical aspects of the movie. Oh yes, we’re going down this road. Starting off with the non-physical characterisation of the characters. I think that the makers of Lord of the Rings are great with this part of film making, because I really can’t fault it. Gandalf is Gandalf, as usual, going around being all Ian-McKellan-y and wise and witty and just generally the kind of guy you wish could be your grandfather. But as for the protagonist, Bilbo is, to all intents and purposes, a brand new character in this film. Not only is he played by Martin Freeman – who was perfect for the role, by the way – but he is also a very different man to the one we see in the early parts of LOTR. As Gandalf so wonderfully put it, when referring to Bilbo’s beginning on the adventure: “If you do [come back], you will not be the same”. In line with this, the Bilbo in The Hobbit is quite a different one to in LOTR. However, Freeman portrays Bilbo well and I really felt you got a sense of the character’s personality and development over the course of the movie. Although he starts off as a persnickety hobbit reluctant to leave the comfort of his cosy hobbit hole, Bilbo’s character soon matures and reveals new sides as he is confronted with obstacles – from emotional challenges like some of the dwarves’ lack of belief in him, to physical ones like riding for days and learning to swordfight, to mental ones like figuring out how to stop some trolls from eating him and his friends. Throughout the film, I found myself caught between the dwarves’ nagging feeling of regret at having brought him along and Gandalf’s unwavering faith in Bilbo. When a film provides you with that level of empathy, it’s hard to see it as a bad thing.
Now, I think it’s about time I addressed the subject of The Hobbit’s music. If you’ve listened to any of the music from LOTR, you’re probably going to watch this new movie expecting something pretty amazing. With that in mind, you would likely not be disappointed with The Hobbit’s soundtrack. The score was composed by Howard Shore, who also did the music for the Lord of the Rings series. He did an amazing job on those films, and he did yet another great job on this soundtrack. There’s music to fit every scene, and that’s no exaggeration. Whilst there isn’t a song playing at every point in the movie, there’s still a good amount of emphasis placed on it, especially when it comes to atmosphere. At one end of the spectrum, you have the peaceful Shire music with the woodwinds. Plus, there’s the cheerfully excited song (An Adventure Begins) that plays when Bilbo decides to go on his journey. At the other end of the scale, you have the terrifying theme of Smaug the dragon. I have to admit, I am also a huge fan of the ominous, foreign-language chanting used in the more dramatic pieces. I imagine much of it was intended to be tied to Thorin’s scenes, as it was quite noticeable whenever the focus was on his fighting. But wow, that chanting was a good move. The effect it had reminded me a little of the vocals in Mozart’s Requiem – seriously, both give me chills. On a whole, it’s a fantastic score. In fact, I’m listening to it as I write this.
Perhaps I should have started this review off with this part of the film, but I’ll go for it now: ladies and gentlemen, the plot and progression of the movie. Even though I wasn’t fully aware of how short The Hobbit novel is when you think about how it’s being stretched out over three, whole, three-hours-each films, you don’t have to be in order to get a sense that something has been…….prolonged in the movie. When I stopped to think about it, I was aware of how long the filmmakers were spending on individual scenes. In a faster paced film, a scene might have lasted five minutes. In The Hobbit, it easily took up half an hour. But that – the ease of it all – is really the main saviour of the film’s pace. Somehow, a scene can last way longer than you would expect it to under any circumstances, and yet it never gets boring. As soon as I walked out of the cinema after seeing The Hobbit, I was ready to walk straight back in and watch it all over again.
As for the plot of the film, it’s fairly linear. There are little side-plot type bits, but the main focus is always on the travels of the dwarves, Gandalf, and Bilbo. However, there are parts of the film that switch the spotlight, even if only for a short while. Lucky recipients of this limelight honour include Azog the Defiler and his army of Wargs, although this is heavily tied to the troubled-past, I-will-have-vengeance part of Thorin’s character (minor spoiler: his grandfather was beheaded by Azog, A.K.A. The Pale Orc, in one of the film’s more violent moments). Radagast the Brown, a character I have to say I adored, gets his fair share of storyline. Again, his plot part slots in with the main story, but Radagast – with his sledge-pulling rabbits and forest home – is a rather memorable character. At the risk of digressing quite severely here, I’d just like to mention that I think Radagast and/or Sebastian the hedgehog deserve a much bigger fandom. I’ll be the founding member of the Sebastian fandom, if need be; it just needs to happen. Ahem. Back to side-characters. Galadriel, who returns to this film in all her dreamy, vacant glory, gets almost entire shots dedicated to her pacing in circles* while wearing a floaty white dress. And, of course, we can’t forget the legendary first meeting of Bilbo and Gollum, brought to life in this film with all the eeriness and tension you’d hope for.
Lastly, before I finish this review, I’m going to shine my own reviewing spotlight on a character who had a huge role in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and is also the character I am most looking forward to seeing in the sequels. I speak, naturally, of Smaug the Magnificent. As I haven’t finished the book, I can’t rightly estimate how much screentime Smaug is going to get in the follow-up films, but I hope it’s a lot. Firstly, because we hardly got to see any of the dragon in An Unexpected Journey, apart from a bit of tail, claws, wings, eye, and so on. It was hardly enough to appreciate his entire magnificence, if it really is so magnificent to begin with. The second reason I want to see more of Smaug in the future is because, in all honesty, I love seeing dragons in movies. The third reason is that he’s voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch – whose voice, we all know, is the closest any of us will come to hearing actual magic being spoken. I’ll admit that I don’t have a clue if Smaug actually speaks in either book or movie (and I’m not willing to look it up – I’ve had enough of The Hobbit spoiled for me as it is), but even if he’s just growling and fire-breathing, I’m confident it will be worth a watch. Call me strange, but seeing Smaug in future instalments is the thing I’m most excited about when it comes to The Hobbit sequels.
You’ve probably gotten a fairly good idea of what I think of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey by now, if you managed to survive your own perilous journey down to this review’s last paragraph, but I’ll say it again – I loved this movie. I would gladly see it again tomorrow if I could. Or today. It was absolutely brilliant and I loved every second of it (including the scene with Gollum, even if that simultaneously squeezed every ounce of both repulsion and pity from my body). Perhaps I would have enjoyed it less if I’d read the book beforehand, and maybe I’ll enjoy the sequels less once I’ve finished it. Regardless, right now I love the film. On the whole: thoroughly, enthusiastically recommended.
Overall rating: 10/10
Mary’s parental guidance rating: 15 (ah, this is a tricky one. But I’ll go with 15, because it really is quite violent at times. Also, intense. You really wouldn’t believe it had been based on a children’s book – heck, I’d say it’s even darker than LOTR. Not that I’m complaining or anything.)
*And why is she allowed to do that without anyone saying, “For goodness’ sake, Galadriel, will you stop gliding around and sit down?”. Whenever I pace, people get seriously annoyed with me. I think it’s because I have magic powers that are only fully enabled when I pace, and nobody wants me to reach my full magical potential. Maybe that’s why Galadriel is so powerful – the secret is in the pacing.