Disclaimer: This is a long and completely biased review and I regret nothing.
(Note: This was originally published on my LotR Tumblr page in December, but as I don’t share that link with anyone who could possibly know me in real life- since it is a blog that, even by my standards, displays embarrassing levels of lotr fangirling- I thought I would share it here)
I’ve seen The Hobbit twice; I was there at midnight (in costume no less; Shieldmaiden of Rohan, you better believe it) on opening night. I went again during the day when I was far less tired and able to do more than just stare in sleep-deprived amazement. I’ve seen it in 2D and 3D, but not the HFPS, because I heard some not-so-great things about it and I was wary to introduce anything that might take away from the experience (yes, my love for Middle Earth runs deep, and my shame in this is nonexistent). From the moment “Concerning Hobbits” started playing, I was in a glass cage of emotion.
I was surprised when I read negative reviews. How could anyone not love this? Upon further thought, I realized that there are really three types of people going to see this movie: hard-core Tolkienites (myself included), casual fans (those who loved the LotR movies but are maybe not that interested in the rest of the canon), and people with nothing better to do.
I think most of the negative reviews came from folks in the latter two categories. I know- it is awfully convenient and unsurprising for a fan to claim that only non-fans could not love something they are a fan of, but hear me out: I believe the hard-core folks (and by that I mean those people that enjoy these stories beyond the movies, occasionally lapse into Elvish by accident, non-ironically refer to their Tolkien collection as “my precious,” and may even require some sort of intervention in their life at some point) never ran the risk of hating this movie. We all came into it knowing that we owed Peter Jackson the soul of our firstborn for giving us yet another view into our beloved Middle Earth, and a chance to sit down with our old friends a little longer. It might be less likely that we will see any real flaws the movie might have had.
Peter Jackson caught a lot of shit for turning this into three movies. A lot of people wanted to know how he could turn a 300-page children’s book into a trilogy (and most people assumed: cash cow). For anyone who has read The Hobbit, the answer is actually quite simple: it IS a children’s book, and thus, there is very little detail and description of all the many, interesting adventures Bilbo and the dwarves experience along the way. The Battle of Five Armies, for example, is only a few pages long! This leaves a lot of room for natural expansion through addition of those details, not to mention the plethora of extra information in the Lord of the Rings appendices. That said, there is still a limit to the resources he can tap into (for anyone who doesn’t know, only the rights to The Hobbit and LotR are available for adaptation; they can’t use material from The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, etc unless the estate one day releases the rights, which seems unlikely given statements they’ve made), but had he been able to use those as well, I think the options for adaptation would be endless.
So with that said, this review will now evolve into bullet points, for no other reason than I love bullet points.
Things I Loved:
- The visual imagery of Erebor was stunning, and it was everything I thought it would be and more. The beautiful geometry of their building, and the lovely shots of pre-destruction Dale were perfect.
- Speaking of visual imagery, seeing The Shire, Rivendell, Misty Mountains, etc again was like an early Christmas gift, and felt a little bit like coming home after a long absence. In fact, I would live in Rivendell even if you told me I had to give up my internet. I wouldn’t need it with that library!
- Martin Freeman was perfect. He played Bilbo with exactly the nervousness and humor I pictured from the book, and, much like Elijah Wood, I’ll probably have difficulty imagining him as anyone else ever again.
- The casting overall was perfect. There’s not a single actor I would have changed.
- Hot dwarves. I know, this is hardly original information, given all the “hot dwarf” pics floating around the internet ever since the first production stills were released. But it would be an understatement to say that this concept caught me completely off guard, and if I ever meet PJ I will tell him that a) it is completely unnatural and b) thank you.
- Thorin specifically was probably the best casting choice. He stole every single moment he was on my screen, from the moment he showed up at Bilbo’s door. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t partly because of his utter raw sexiness (damn you, Peter Jackson), but that came second to his intensity and presence. I will say also that I liked how they adapted the character for film, as book Thorin is a whiny brat and I could never understand why anyone wanted to help him.
- Thranduil on a moose. Easily the most unexpectedly BAMF moment of the entire movie. On my second viewing, I almost risked getting kicked out to get a picture of it since the internet had failed me on that.
- The “council” scene with Galadriel, Saruman, and Elrond telling Gandalf to stop his goddamned meddling was the best non-book addition of the whole movie (well, I suppose it’s not entirely made-up, as it was referenced in the LotR appendices). I love cranky Saruman. Also, Cate Blanchett is ageless and stunning.
- Despite the crappy CGI (see below), Azog was sufficiently terrifying, and I squealed a little when I realized they were up on Weathertop.
- Riddles in the Dark. Wow. Easily the most breathtaking, suspenseful, and heartbreaking moment of the entire movie. Played to perfection. I hardly breathed during the entire scene. I bought the Lego set of this but unfortunately my dog ate Gollum and his little boat. Eff.
- The scene where Bilbo reappears after the Goblin battle, and tells the dwarves he will help them get their home back, if he can, was genuinely touching. As was the bro-hug that Thorin gives Bilbo near the end. /tear
- When the dwarves sing the “Misty Mountains,” song the first night at Bilbo’s, it actually brought tears to my eyes. I loved the contrast with their lightheartedness from earlier in the night. It added a haunting sense of the darkness and reality they are facing, which was not felt as strongly in the book.
Things That Could Have Been Better:
- The Lord of the Rings trilogy did a good job balancing the heaviness of their tasks with a bit of levity and adventure- without being cheesy. The Hobbit, at times, had difficulty deciding what it wanted to be, I felt. I’m not talking about the scene with the dwarves at Bag End, either, as I thought that scene was fantastic, true to the book, and a good way of setting up the characters before things got serious. But at times some of the villains seemed like bad caricatures and I think filming the movie in 3D might have removed some of the “haziness” that gives Middle-earth its fantasy feel.
- Some of the CGI seemed lazy. I preferred the prosthetics of the orcs in the LotR trilogy because it seemed less “cartoony.” It seems weird to me that the movies ten years older would have better orcs than the modern ones.
- Once again, a lot of people are asking about the damn eagles because, once again, PJ gives us the impression that Gandalf controls them. WELL HE DOESN’T. The Lord of the Eagles is a badass who answers to no one, and would probably drop you off a cliff if you suggested he and his buddies turn into Middle Earth Taxi Service. He will help if he wants to help, and that’s about it.
- I was really torn about how I felt about Radagast. I’ve heard really polarizing thoughts about this from a lot of fans- they either loved him, or thought he was completely ridiculous. I found my reaction somewhere in the middle; I thought in moments (for example, when he followed the Necromancer) he was awesome, and then others (the rabbit sled might have been a bit much, let’s be honest) where it was just silly.
- The ball-sac chin on the Goblin King was a tad distracting. I was waiting for one of them to slice the damn thing open (I imagined a bunch of worms falling out, but I have a vivid imagination) and was disappointed when it was still attached to his face.
- The rock giant fight would have been better included in the EE, rather than the theatrical.
- It was unnecessary to play up the animosity the dwarves had for the elves for dramatic effect. There was no love lost between the races, but in the book they weren’t rude to Elrond and accepted his hospitality. If anything, I think being more true to the real sentiments might have had more of an impact, because it really shows how the different races came together toward common foes.
Overall I was happy with the adaptation, and even with its flaws I will watch it, and re-watch it a thousand times when it comes to blu-ray. I will forever be grateful for Peter Jackson for taking on these enormous projects when no one else would. I’m glad it was him, someone who is a lifelong fan himself, and I know how hard it was for him to try and decide what to keep, what to cut, and how to do it. He has weathered a lot of unfair criticism, and I say that as someone who has read all of the canonical Middle-earth literature and has a relatively fair grasp of the Tolkien worldverse.
I can’t wait for the Desolation of Smaug, and it sucks having to wait another year to see it (and then another year after that for the last film). Hopefully some HQ stills will get released soon so I can pass the time with spam reblogging pics of Thranduil on his moose.
12 thoughts on “A Completely Biased Review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”
I am absolutely loving your Tolkien articles – they’re in-depth, fascinating, and I get a bit of a giggle from some of your witty observations! I am yet to see An Unexpected Journey (my mother and I are both Tolkien fans and want to see the movie together, but can’t seem to find a free weekend), but have to agree that I was a bit bewildered that the critics didn’t give it good reviews, yet the fans did. It looks so amazing! Anyway, love your articles, looking forward to reading more; I myself am somewhere between a casual and hardcore fan 🙂
Thank you so much!! I am so glad someone enjoys them other than me 🙂 I have a lot of Tolkien-related topics I’ll eventually be posting about…usually some variant of questions I had while reading or questions I know others have. I know one of my favorite things to do is read others’ essays on it, so I thought I would pay it forward.
Oh, and you will love the movie, I am sure of it. 🙂
Nice to meet you!
Oh, and P.S.: Your painting of Arwen was amazing. You are very talented…I always wished I had the gift of being able to bring pictures to life.
If you’re not a LOTR fan, you might not like this movie though. I can’t wait for the next two movies, but God forbid they end up like the Star Wars prequels. Nice review Sarah.
I agree. I went with a group of people to the midnight showing, one of whom was not a fan and I am still not sure why she went (anymore than I would have gone to a midnight showing of Twilight). She was pretty miserable the whole time.
Amen on the STAR WARS stuff…although I think they are in good hands with PJ.
Thanks for stopping by!
I really enjoyed reading this. I agree entirely about the casting of Thorin. He was amazing! I also loved Radagast, but I see why some people wouldn’t. I have a weird sense of humor anyway. I think as far as film adaptations for books go, it couldn’t have been much better.
I’m with you on the weird humor…I rather enjoyed some of his quirkiness 😛 And The Hobbit, as a somewhat “lighter” fare than LotR, can afford to have some quirkiness.
Thanks for reading!
Thank you for your comments on the film … I am a hard-core fan, too … So, naturally, I loved the movie 😉
Always happy to meet other fans 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed it!
Hard to disagree with your review of the film!