Over the holidays, the family and I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and all agreed (even the teenager who isn’t a Lord of the Rings fan) it was an excellent movie.
Let’s get the question of film speed out of the way. The director, Peter Jackson, sparked a bit of a controversy by filming at a higher speed – 48 frames per second versus the 24 fps standard since the 1920s.
Our local theater offered the movie in 48fps in 3D, regular 3D, or standard. Regular 3D was out of the question because it gives my husband and I headaches. Now, I’ve been curious about the new film speed, but we ultimately chose the 48fps because it was the only one scheduled at the time we could go. He was leery because it was still in 3D, but agreed because the 48fps was supposed to cut down on the strobing effect that causes those headaches. And it was true! No headaches for us.
To me, the 48fps 3D looked like High Definition TV on steroids. It was crisp, clear, and immediate. You could see every detail as if you were standing in the same space with the actors. While I felt less comfortable because this was a new experience (and because of the annoying 3D glasses), I’m willing to try it again in the future.
On to the story.
The story centers on the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, who goes on an adventure with the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves to drive off a dragon who destroyed their lands long ago and is nesting on top of a giant treasury that belonged to King Thror, the grandfather of the company’s leader, Thorin Oakenshield. This preceeds the events in The Lord of the Rings, and is important because it explains how Bilbo first came into possession of the One Ring of Power.
The front-end of the movie might be a little slow for folks who aren’t fans, but I think the film did a good job of explaining the backstory in between action scenes.
The movie began with a sequence paralleling events from the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring movie with Frodo and an older Bilbo. Then, they flashed a “sixty years ago” panel and introduced the younger Bilbo and continued with the story.
There’s also a section explaining the dwarf kingdom of Erebor and Thorin’s family, and the destruction caused by the dragon, Smaug.
But once the company is on it’s journey, events speed up.
While there is much that is serious here, The Hobbit is more light-hearted overall than Lord of the Rings. I think this is why it appealed even to my daughter who doesn’t normally like epic fantasy.
The scenes with the dwarves arriving in twos and threes on Bilbo’s doorstep, looking so outrageous with their huge beards and strangely-coiffed hair, eating everything in sight and throwing his dishes around as they sang and cleaned up – all while Bilbo is surprised and shocked, but trying to be hospitable – were great fun.
We also can’t forget the banter between the trolls over how to cook the captive dwarves and Bilbo or the wizard Radagast with his sled careening over the countryside pulled by his fierce rabbits, the riddle contest between Bilbo and Gollum or the comically grotesque Great Goblin.
Characters Familiar and New
It goes without saying that it was pleasant to see the return of familiar characters from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, such as Frodo, the older Bilbo, Gandalf, and the elves, Lord Elrond and Lady Galadriel, and even Gollum. It was interesting to see the wizard Saruman dismissing worries of evil things returning to Middle Earth. Was he deep in Sauron’s counsel even then?
I found the choice of Martin Freeman to play the younger Bilbo inspired. Though I know he’s been busy since, the last time I saw him was as Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The endearingly bumbling charm he exhibited there is still in evidence in The Hobbit, but more subtle and with a spark towards the end of the movie. Knowing what must be coming in the future movies, I can’t wait to see how he handles Bilbo’s changes.
With thirteen dwarves, it would be hard to tell one from another, which is why the filmmakers went out of their way to make them very distinctive. Each has a different hairstyle, beardstyle, clothing, and mannerisms. I couldn’t always keep their names straight, but I knew them by sight.
Novel vs Movie
It’s been nearly twenty years since I first read JRR Tolkein’s The Hobbit. As an experiment, I didn’t read it again before watching the movie and thoroughly enjoyed the movie. But, of course, I had to start reading the novel afterward. (Yes, I know there are two more movies to come, but I couldn’t wait that long!) So far, I’m happy to see the movie was quite faithful to the book in many places.
But the details that were changed for the movie are interesting. As a writer, I tried to imagine the possible reason for each change.
For instance, I was a little confused by the choice to make the elves Thorin’s personal enemies in the movie. I felt this was out of character for the elves and was a poorly-manufactured conflict. On the other hand, in the movie, the character of the orc, Azog, is greatly expanded and, I felt, a very effective conflict.
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You can’t imagine how tough it is, but this is getting a little long, so I’ll control my enthusiasm and stop here.
If you are a fan of fantasy and adventure, with a good dose of humor, I think you will enjoy The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Have you seen this movie? What did you think of it?