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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – A Review

Posted on Sunday, December 16, 2012 in Film, Rant, Review

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

DID I MENTION SPOILERS!

YOU SHOULD NOT PASS… if you haven’t seen the movie and want to be surprised.

You have been warned…

Okay, the disclaimer is out of the way. Today, I went with the family to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the 3-D HFR version. Having now seen it, I’m surprised at the vitriol that’s been heaped on the movie by some (e.g., here and here just to name two). Maybe “vitriol” is too strong a word, but it seems some of the negative press is unwarranted. I’ve also seen Tolkien fans that have written reviews saying they’re not even going to see movies two and three in this trilogy. I’m planning on seeing the next two without question. To me, An Unexpected Journey seemed like a quick three hours. There were some parts that dragged on too long (more on that below) and some superfluous material, but, overall, it kept my attention, didn’t offend my sensitive Tolkien sensibilities (too much – again, see below), and was a fairly enjoyable and entertaining ride. I just have to remember that any shortcomings of the film in no detract from Tolkien’s work and world. The films aren’t canon. They’re based on an interpretation of Tolkien’s work and can stand or fall on their own.

Some of the best parts, in my opinion, in no particular order were:

  • The scenes inside Bilbo’s hobbit hole. These were, for the most part, true to the book (in spirit if not literally). I’ve read some reviews that talk negatively about the dishwashing sequence but found this to be very faithful to the book itself.
  • Elrond showing up in his armor. No, it wasn’t in the book, but it always bothered me that Rivendell was supposed to be this idyllic sanctuary in the mountains. How did it stay safe? Well, it makes sense that Elrond and his house would ride out once in a while to “take care of business” in the neighborhood. Plus we got some Sindarin in here 🙂
  • The opening prologue inside and around Erebor. Seeing Thrór, Thráin, and Thorin ensconced in their kingdom and getting a glimpse of Dwarven culture was very interesting. Plus this also gave us a peek at Smaug’s feet and fire. The scene with all the dwarves waiting inside Erebor as flames lick at the front door was very cool.
  • Radagast. Yes, Radagast. As a character design, I thought he worked very well. I have other misgivings about him in the movie, but overall his look and action seemed very in keeping with what I had always thought about the brown wizard.
  • Seeing the progression of Balin from Erebor, to Azanulbizar, to the “present”. The only issue here (literal book-wise) is that Thorin is actually older than Balin: Thorin was 24 when Smaug attacked Erebor; Balin was 7.
  • Gandalf’s look on his face when he finds that Saruman has shown up at Rivendell. I could almost hear a “Oh, man, it’s my boss.”
  • Gollum and riddle game. This was worth seeing the HFR version right here! Gollum is absolutely amazing looking, and Andy Serkis is in full command of bringing Gollum to life.

Before we go any further, let me address the conlanging aspect of the movie. There was some Sindarin in Rivendell. It’s always nice to be able to pick up a word here and there. I got Gandalf’s “Mellon nin!” even before I read the subtitle. Yay, me. I was very disappointed I didn’t hear any Khuzdul (except maybe a snippet from Bifur). However, as I was given a heads-up by Erunno Alcarinollo on Twitter, I expected a lack of Khuzdul and that the orcs seem to be speaking the Black Speech or at least some orcish dialect of it. Interesting turn of events when both the elves and the orcs get subtitles. But it’s not all the orcs. The goblins of the Misty Mountains still speak English with a British accent although they know the ones who speak only Black Speech. (We know this because the Goblin King is going to send a message to the leader of the Black Speech orcs.) And even the Black-Speech-speaking orcs seem to have some auto-tune reverb thing going on with their voices. I am looking forward to some notes online on the Black Speech in the film.

I’m going to assume that Black Speech and Khuzdul maybe sounded too much alike to do them both in the film. Plus, some movie-goers may have said, “Okay, the dwarves were speaking with subtitles before but now they’re speaking in English. What’s up with that? And why are those orcs speaking the dwarves’ language? I don’t get it!” So, I’m going to cut some slack to Peter Jackson and let the Khuzdul go. However, I still want to hear a “Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd aimênu” at the Battle of Five Armies, most likely from the armies of the Iron Hills.

Okay, so that brings us back to this band of Black-Speech-speaking orcs and their leader, Azog. Yes, that Azog. We see him, Thorin, and Balin in the Battle of Azanulbizar. I was really looking forward to this but found the movie adaptation somewhat disappointing. Azog, referred to subsequently in the film as the Pale Orc, becomes the primary antagonist of Thorin & Company because of an extreme hatred of Thorin himself. It seems… SPOILER! again… after Azog beheads Thrór in the battle (not as in the Appendices), Thorin battles the orc chieftain and cuts off the orc’s forearm. Inexplicably, the orcs carry their leader back into Moria, the dwarves claim victory, and Thorin assumes Azog dies. Bad move, Mr. Oakenshield. Azog sticks an iron claw on his forearm (with a nice spike sticking out of his elbow) and swears vengeance on the “Dwarf-scum” or whatever Black Speech phrase means that.

The creation of Azog’s revenge seems to be a superfluous sub-plot for the film. If Peter Jackson did want to have this storyline, it seems a better tactic might have been to have Azog fighting at Azanulbizar with his son Bolg. I don’t know how you show this, but having Azog kill Thrór, then have Thorin kill Azog (yes, I know he didn’t kill Azog but I’ll give them some leeway here), and have Bolg retreat (maybe with the look in his eyes as the orcs of Mordor when the Rohirrim rode down on them in Pelennor Fields in The Return of the King). But showing an orc swearing revenge on someone who slew his father might be ascribing too many emotions to orcs (who are really the expendable Star-Wars-stormtroopers or battle droids of The Lord of the Rings films).

And Azog really does look like a very good CG video game character, but a CG video game character nonetheless. If they were going with an orc antagonist, it would have been nice to see something like Lurtz. I do have to agree with those who have mentioned that aspect of the movie.

I mentioned above that I enjoyed the look and behavior of Radagast. I still stand by that. My only beef with Radagast in the film was the… SPOILER! again… rabbit-sled race to distract the orc band. “These are Rhosgobel rabbits!” I don’t even know what that means? He breeds super rabbits? And the sled just goes around and around, constantly bringing the orcs back to Thorin & Company who finally find a way to escape on their own. And Radagast just disappears then. It’s really Elrond and his elves who get rid of the orcs. So, the sled race went on way too long and, in my opinion, was superfluous in the first place.

Another part that went on a little too long was the Stone-giants scene in the Misty Mountains. I’m fine with them being in the film, but it seemed prolonged and didn’t really move the story forward. A few boulders crashing through the rain and knocking debris down on the company would have been plenty.

Just a brief note on the HFR: It didn’t really thrill me nor distract me. Maybe I’m just jaded from watching HDTV at home. Other than seeing the weave of Bilbo’s shirt and an absolutely stunning, crisp Gollum in all his slimy paleness, the HFR was just fine but nothing to get really worked up about (positively or negatively).

So, as you can see there were some disappointments but some absolutely enchanting moments, too. It could have been a great movie, but it wasn’t a failure as some seem to have suggested. Even with what I know of Peter Jackson’s additions and alterations, I’m still looking forward to seeing The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again.

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