Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey... a review

[This review contains spoilers]

It was half past six, at first sight a typically crazy Friday evening in our house.  Our friend Hannah had just arrived from work and was eating pizza for her tea, with Coo pinching bites off the crust.  The boys were racing around with wooden rifles, swords, and various other weapons, having some type of battle.  I was on the phone with the US Postal Service, lodging a complaint after a letter sent to my sister at the correct address was returned to me after six weeks floating around in the postal system.  Time was ticking and finally Dan managed to get us all out the door and climbing into Roosevelt.  The roads were busy, and our trip to Birmingham seemed so slow! We stopped close to the centre to pick up our housemate James, who had just finished at uni.  As we neared the centre of the city, traffic slowed to a crawl.  We watched the minutes pass speedily and the time for the start of the film came and went. Hannah had taken Lefty and Righty in her car, and she was the one who had to field [our family's PA] Lefty's justified concerns over the lateness of the hour.

Finally, we made it into the multi-storey car park, found spaces, parked the cars, and literally ran into the cinema.  Dan had gone ahead to pick up our pre-booked tickets, and the kids [and us adults, I think!] were in a state of excitement as we raced up the escalators and into the right screen. The adverts had just finished, and the film was about to begin.  What perfect timing!

If you know us at all, you already know that our home is steeped in the lore and mythology of JRR Tolkien's fictional Middle Earth.  Its fantastical inhabitants are good friends of ours; we feel sorry for poor misguided Gollum, admire the bravery and heroism of most of the characters, and greatly appreciate the consistency of the mention of food. This is not one of those fictional narratives in which the author forgets to write about food, or even remember that his characters need sustenance. In Middle Earth, no adventure is complete without food, and plenty of it. When the characters begin to suffer from lack of food, we definitely feel their pain. And when they enjoy times of plenty and descriptions of their meals cause our mouths to water, we appreciate every word and then desire to put our books down and enjoy our own Middle Earth-themed repasts.

Last night, we sat in anticipation as the first instalment of JRR Tolkien's fabled adventure unfolded on the giant screen in front of us.  Yes, we took all the kids.  It's a 12A [PG-13] rated movie, but all six of us know the story so well, and Middle Earth itself so thoroughly, that we were in for few surprises even with minor plot changes. The adventurous violence that accompanies these fantasy films is so unlike real life that the kids have never found it frightening. Personally, I would rather my kids appreciate cinematic, tumultuous wonders like LOTR or the Hobbit than play video games that showcase actual, real-life style violence, in which the child plays the realistic role of the aggressor.  Coo was too young for it.  She's a wise child, though; hiding her face in my arm when ugly trolls and growling creatures were on screen. However, she would have been devastated to have been left behind to be babysat while the rest of us went on a Middle Earth adventure. We talked a lot about it afterwards and she explained how she liked all the "good guys" but not the "bad guys". Galadriel's flowing white dress was a high point for her.

The film opens at Bag End, with an elderly Bilbo preparing for his birthday party.  He is also writing his memoirs: There and Back Again. And then the story drifts into the past: a younger Bilbo is offered the chance to go on an adventure [reclaiming gold and a homeland for the dwarfs] with a group of loud, argumentative said dwarfs, Gandalf the wizard, and the distinct possibility of certain death.  So away Bilbo goes.  Trolls, elves, a mental woodland wizard named Radagast, ugly orcs, near escapes, and plenty of tense moments crowd the screen for three hours.  We sat back afterwards almost breathless, ready to watch it all again.

Peter Jackson has been faithful to Tolkien's storyline, but has woven bits and pieces of Middle Earth backstory into the plot of this movie.  I liked that.  It felt as if some of the necessary history which had been cut out of the ambitious LOTR films has returned to the story. One of the plot changes was the introduction of a "pale orc" on a mission to gain revenge on Thorin Oakenshield, the dwarf king. Righty talked about this a lot afterwards, and predicts, disappointedly, that the pale orc will be the one to eventually slay Thorin, rather than the fictionally correct Bolg, king of the goblins.  Also, Jackson stretches out the story a bit to include a meeting of Gandalf, Saruman, Elrond, and Galadriel, as they discuss the looming threat of the Necromancer [Sauron].  This meeting is mentioned in the book, but not in detail.  In spite of these minor changes, the film is well-crafted and almost flawless.

"An Unexpected Journey" is the same in essence as "The Lord of the Rings" movies: serious, deep, and detailed. This is the most notable departure from the spirit of the book, which was written as a children's novel from stories Tolkien told his children.  I really love The Hobbit for its literary simplicity and its magical child-like fantasy world feeling; but in order to fit with the rest of the over-arching Middle Earth history, this story had to be treated with the same gravity. Also, what Peter Jackson has done by cramming more Middle Earth history into the Hobbit plot really does work, and somehow adds credence to the first trilogy of movies, which could be criticised for not including enough of it.

I've been rereading The Hobbit in preparation for seeing the movie.  Lefty has too, and he beat me to it, finishing the book before last night. However, when I picked it up today to read, I found I'd stopped reading at the exact place in the story where the film left off last night! I think it's safe to say that I know what our family Christmas cinema trip will be next year.


  1. I wonder why he filmed the LOTR trilogy first instead of The Hobbit. Hmm. I'm sure if I google it, I could find the answer. *grin*

    I'll probably wait to see it when it comes out on DVD - I went to two movies over the span of two weekends and I can no longer afford to go to the cinema until next year!

  2. It's expensive here, too; we saved a bit by buying online, but it's still a lot of money!


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