Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Those who loved Sir Peter Jackson's adaptation of JRR Tolkein's Lord of the Rings trilogy will love this movie. Those who didn't, won't. It's  as simple as that.


It became a family tradition that I would take my family to see the Lord of the Rings movies at Christmas as they came out. My Brother and Mother, who'd both read the books as children, and re-read them since, loved the movies. My father, who hadn't, didn't. He even opined that Gandalf was derivative of Dumbledor, whereas of course, the opposite is true. He thought the movies over-long, muddled and unsatisfying. In the final movie, I could hear him mutter "and... cut" several times, as the movie reached a natural ending to the story, whereas those who'd read the book knew there were several story-lines still to come.

There are those critics who will think the movie "plodding" and over-long. That's a complaint with Tolkein's utter disregard for narrative arc. Indeed, it's this lack of tidy endings, and profusion of sub-plot lines that make the mythology so compelling. It's more like reality than many gritty cop-dramas or action movies today. There may even be purists who may take issue with the additions to the book's tale, but as these are telling back-stories and tying the Hobbit deeper into the Lord of the Rings narrative, it didn't bother me. I'm not sure why they feel the need to monkey around with Tolkein's prose though: "In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit. Not a nasty-dirty hole filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell... This was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort." Became some nonsense about "all the comforts of home". WHY? 

As it happens, Gandalf turns up roughly where he does in the book. His absences are explained more fully than they are in the book. The "necromancer" in Mirkwood is clearly explained for what he is: The witch-king of Angbar, re-animated by Sauron's spririt, which Gandalf suspects long before the other guardians of Middle-Earth. We meet Radagast the Brown and Saruman. The Dwarves are all given characters (and regional British accents). Thorin Oakenshield is a properly hard bastard. Bilbo is well imagined. Many of the other characters are familiar from the Lord of the Rings. There are more comic moments than in the previous movie, but this too is in keeping with the book. 

The company of Dwarves isn't the hand-picked band of mighty warriors that the Fellowship of the Ring was, but ordinary (if short) blokes united by faith and loyalty. This is a thread which runs through all Tolkein's work: the idea that free people thrust into extraordinary situations will do remarkable things. Tolkein never claimed to have been influenced by his experiences on the Western Front in 1916, but it's clear he was. He asserted there to be no analogy to the second world war in his books.

Gandalf's greatest insight is that Hobbits - a sort of idealised rustic Englishman were a better bulwark against evil than the great princes and warriors of greater strength and  fame, who're too easily corrupted by power.  This is perhaps the reason the mythological cycle of which the Hobbit forms a part is so appealing to the Anglo-Saxon world: it speaks to a dimly remembered folk-memory of doughty farmers and nascent local democracy dating from the dark-ages. The idea that we're free, and they're not.

There are those who'll complain about the CGI or the 48 frame-per-second technology.Some think the pace plodding. I disagree. I could have easily sat through the entire story told at this pace, and I'm slightly miffed I have to wait a whole year for the next installment. I will struggle to not buy the DVD so I can watch it before I go and see the next installment: Through Mirkwood, or whatever it is going to be called, and wait for the Director's cut trilogy boxed set in 2015 or so.

If you're an unashamed owner of the extended, director's cut boxed set of the Lord of the Rings, then go and see The Hobbit: An unexpected Journey. If you thought the Lord of the Rings to be an overblown fairy-tale, don't bother. Ultimately, you know the world, you know the story that's going to be told. Sir Peter Jackson has created another masterpiece.



6 comments:

Bill said...

I read the review of 'The Hobbit' in the Telegraph earlier this week and as a result was reconsidering whether to see it in the cinema or simply wait until it is available on DVD - your review makes me think it may be worthwhile to see it in the cinema after all.

I have been a lifelong lover of Tolkien and have read most of his books, although I read LOTR long before I read The Hobbit and have read the former 7 or 8 times since, whereas I've only read The Hobbit once, and found it less good although still interesting and enjoyable.

I thought Jackson did a superb job with the 3 LOTR films which I saw in the cinema as they were released; the divergences and omissions from the book (and there were a few) were understandable and as someone who loves the 3-part LOTR I did not feel he had vandalised the book, but had rather enhanced its appeal to a new audience. I have both the cinema release DVDs of all 3 films and the full set of the extended versions in different houses and usually watch both at least once a year, whilst still reading the book. I get something new out of it every time.

I'm re-reading The Hobbit just now, too, to refresh my memory of the first reading, but may wait until the pre-Christmas rush is over before thinking about a cinema visit. However, my impression at present is that it has been 'stretched' to 3 films solely to get 3 bites at a ticket-buying cinema audience, rather than 1 or 2, but I expect I shall more definite views on this once I have seen the first episode.

banned said...

I started with Narnia as a youngling, moved on to The Hobbit and thence Lord Of The Rings and Gormenghast (much overated imho).

The Hobbit remains my favorite read and although making 3 films might be milking it I'll give them a go.

AnthonyV said...

I saw it last Friday and thought some bits were little overlong but, apart from that, it was a good film. However I don't think it was until about halfway through that the sense of wonder I had with the Lord of the Rings films kicked in. Had they knocked out some bits with the initial party and a song or two I think that would have helped. Otherwise, couldn't find fault with it really

Status Viatoris said...

I couldn't agree more with your assessment! I went last night and was transfixed from start to finish - if it hadn't been for the bloody uncomfortable seats so beloved of Italian cinemas, I would have happily watched the entire thing all over again... Now I am reduced to wishing my life away - roll on December 2013!

Fahrenheit211 said...

I haven't seen the new Hobbit film yet but I will soon. I really enjoyed the LOTR series. What I really want to know is are there any future plans to make The Silmarillion into a film? Even 10-15 years ago it would have been technically difficult to put the Silmarillion on screen but now the technology exists. Mind you, a film of the Simarillion would probably have only one viewer - Me.

Glenn Haldane said...

I didn't think the implication was that the Necromancer was the Witch-King (of Angmar, not Angbar)but if it was, chalk it up to another pointless Jackson tampering.

Overall, I enjoyed it, but they got Bilbo's character very wrong when they gave him that banzai charge to rescue Thorin. Tolkien tells us that the bravest thing he ever did was to continue down the darkened tunnel in Erebor even even after he heard Smaug's snores. As Professor Shippey tells us, Bilbo's 'courage is not aggressive or hot-blooded. It is internalized, solitary, dutiful'.

If anybody was going to go berserk to rescue Thorin, it would have been Fili and Kili, who later fell at the Battle of Five Armies 'defending him with shield and body, for he was their mother's elder brother'.

But overall, the screenplay was only moderately idiotic, while music, props, costumes and setting were all very good indeed. I'm prepared to make allowances because Jackson is a buffoon, and I enjoyed it.

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