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“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” December 24, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and our friend Rashu finally got to see the film adaptation of the first part of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The journey may not have been unexpected—we’ve all been reading The Hobbit regularly since childhood—but we were all anxious about the film adaptation.

The reviews have been lukewarm at best, praising Richard Armitage as the dwarf-king Thorin Oakenshield, Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf, and Andy Serkis as Gollum, the last two reprising their roles in the Lord of the Rings (LoTR) movie cycle.

Mind you, it’s not that Silence and I don’t love Richard Armitage, who stole the whole show in the BBC’s “Robin Hood” series as Sir Guy of Gisborne, normally a minor character, and even with really tough competition from the hilarious Sheriff of Nottingham (“ham” being the operative word, he was so funny) and a very sympathetic Palestinian boy-but-really-girl who was part of Robin’s band. And who wouldn’t love Andy Serkis?! His Gollum is priceless and displays a full range of very moving emotions, far beyond just muttering “my preciousss.”

Admittedly, Sir Ian leaves me and Silence cold as Gandalf; we’d have preferred our hero, Christopher Lee, in the role. (At least he makes a return appearance as Saruman the White, though his beard looked a lot better in LoTR.) But our real issue was that nobody’s talking about Bilbo.

Bilbo Baggins is the heart and soul of The Hobbit; it’s a book about his journey, from a sheltered life in The Shire to a very full life of adventure and self-discovery, and it’s full of humor, unlike the uniformly dark, brooding Lord of the Rings trilogy. And we’ve very much enjoyed Martin Freeman’s performance as the longsuffering Dr. Watson in “Sherlock” (we’re also looking forward to seeing—or at least hearing—Sherlock himself, the wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch, as Smaug). So why wasn’t anyone talking about his performance as Bilbo, the star of the show?

We were also dismayed when our friend Rob and his son Christian went to see “The Hobbit” and both of them proclaimed it the most interminable, boring waste of time they’d ever sat through. (Given all the movies they see, that’s quite a statement.) What had Peter Jackson done to our beloved childhood favorite?!

We were prepared to believe the critics’ comments that the movie was padded; after all, Mr. Jackson has stretched the book into a film trilogy. And we were also willing to set aside Rob’s and Christian’s comments on the grounds that they hadn’t even read The Hobbit, much less read it every year, so they could hardly be called fans.

However, Silence and I had been far from impressed by the film version of LoTR, while everyone else seemed to be falling all over themselves praising it. We found it tedious, with most of the characters interchangeable (exceptions being Arwen Evenstar, Galadriel, Saruman, Gollum, Boromir, Pippin, Sam Gamgee, and, of course, Gimli, played by the marvelous John Rhys Davies), and the interminable battle sequences. But to be fair, we’d also found the trilogy in book form to be tedious, taking itself so very seriously, unlike the playful Hobbit. What worried us most was that Peter Jackson might have stripped all the humor from the film.

Not to worry. As it turned out, the dwarves were all great and all but Thorin were quite humorous. The makeup artists deserve a huge shout-out for their dwarves’ looks, especially the hair and beards. If you enjoy slapstick (which we do), the trolls were a scream. But Bilbo, who has a comedic aspect in the book much like Pippin’s in LoTR, seems to have lost it after serving a most unexpected supper to a bunch of uninvited dwarves and Gandalf at his home, Bag End. His performance can best be described as earnest. We hope he’ll recover it in the sequels.

Richard Armitage as Thorin was as good as advertised, and I have to admit that Silence thinks he’s a major hottie (as she did in “Robin Hood”) and makes a far better romantic lead than did Viggo Mortensen in the LoTR films (though we both admire Mr. Mortensen’s erudition enormously, he brings a depth to film that is seldom seen). Thorin may be a dwarf, but that’s not apparent in the film; he looms large as a valiant warrior and leader. This is a vast enlargement of his role in the book, where he was an arrogant, wooden, one-dimensional stick figure. Much credit is due Mr. Armitage, the screenwriters, and the director for this improvement on the original.

As before with LoTR, we felt that far too much time was devoted to digitalized fighting. But then, we’re not of the video-game-playing generation; maybe they’d find it fabulous. However, Rashu is of that generation, and he found the film much more disappointing than we did. We’re still not sure why, but we think it’s because so little of the film actually was drawn from the book. (We can only think of a couple of comments by Gandalf, and Gollum’s riddles, that were taken verbatim from the book.)

Maybe it’s because we weren’t expecting much, but we actually enjoyed the film. (Though we did mutter a lot of “Poor Bilbo!” as it progressed.) Would we see it again? Probably, but at home where we could walk away from some of the fight scenes (though we’d watch the opening fight of Thorin’s ancestors and the one where he battles the wargs and orcs in the final confrontation of the film; they were great.) But we think the fan documentary “Ringers” captures the playful spirit of The Hobbit far better than “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” If any of you have seen it, please let us know what you thought!

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