Monday, December 30, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

a film review.

A word of warning before you start posting indignant comments and writing angry emails: if you are a fan of this movie you'd better skip reading this.

It took me about a year, but finally I watched part 1 of Peter Jackson's Hobbit Saga. I have mixed feelings about it which make writing a review difficult, but I'll still try.

The Hobbit is one of the favourite books of my childhood, I think I first read it when I was about 7 years old, and I re-read it a countless number of times afterwards. I probably know it by heart now:) What I especially like about this book is the slightly ironical tone in which it was written, where the author apparently doesn't take the characters he created or their adventures too seriously. It nearly totally lacks the pathos of The Lord Of The Rings which makes it fun to read for both kids and grown-ups. There is but one sad moment in the story when Thorin dies. Now PJ's film, on the other hand...

Peter Jackson completely changes the tone of the story and it starts already in the beginning, when the dwarves arrive to Bilbo's house, though this part of the movie (and the game of riddles with Gollum which I'll talk about later) is the closest to the original text. The dwarves in the book are annoying the heck out of Bilbo with their demands and rudeness, but they are shown as a group of travellers, not a band of warriors.

They are not dressed in rags but rather in nice colourful clothes (I have only a Dutch version by the hand so I can't quote and you'll have to believe me or you can go to the library to check). They bring their tools and musical instruments, instead of weapons. In fact, Thorin only gets a sword after his encounter with trolls. Jackson's dwarves, on the other hand, look like  hardened mercenaries. Then the drama starts...

As you have probably noticed in The Lord Of The Rings series, Jackson is extremely fond of drama, so that he creates it when there is none in the original text. I have read somewhere that the scenario of the film was written by his wife and another woman, which could explain the fact that especially in the beginning it sometimes reminded me a soap opera about life in Shire, but it's also possible that Mrs Jackson was operating under her husband's instructions, and it's simply his ideas about what makes a good film.

 The original book was called The Hobbit because it actually was a story about the adventures of a hobbit, Mr Bilbo Baggins, and there was little potential for drama, but Jackson discovered it in the person of our  alpha male or rather alpha dwarf, Thorin Oakenshild, King Under The Mountain, whom Jackson probably modelled after William Wallace the Braveheart. At least, these are the associations Jackson's Thorin created in me.

Tolkien's Thorin is an important person, and he is probably the only one from the whole company who has had a combat experience. He is shown as an arrogant type with a very high opinion about himself, but he doesn't really get murderous inclinations until the very end of the book when he is forced to part with his treasure, while Jackson's Thorin, on the other hand, looks willing enough to cut the throat of anyone who stands in his path, be it an elf or an orc or even a hobbit.

Tolkien's dwarves start their journey hoping to get back a small part of their gold stolen by Smaug, and they  hardly behave in any sort of heroic fashion until the battle of the 5 armies, and the book shows them as rather comical characters. Treasure hunting turns into the second Return of the King and Thorin becomes a tragic hero worthy of the poems of Byron, if not tragedies of Shakespeare, especially because we know that
 he is going to die in the end.

To create even more drama, Jackson adds the story of Azog, who is long dead by the time the events of The Hobbit take place, but Jackson resurrects him and makes him just as obsessed with Thorin as Thorin is with him. In the book, it was Bolg, the son of Azog who was the leader of the Orc armies, and it was he who was trying to revenge his father, but where Tolkien uses one short sentence, Jackson creates the whole parallel story line.

Just as it was the case with The Lord Of The Rings, Peter Jackson took a lot of liberties with the original text, which is not a problem in itself, and sometimes can even improve the story, but the original Hobbit is a children's book, which can't be said about Jackson's movie, imo. Of course, there were some moments meant specially for kids, like the introduction of Radagast and his rabbits. Nearly everyone seemed to criticise him, but I personally found him one of the most sympathetic characters of the whole movie.

However, despite Radagast and some other comical moments, the film is dark, and touches on subjects, which, I think are hardly appropriate for children. As usual, Jackson adds combat scenes where there were none in the book, so as not to lose any opportunity to show more gore and bloodshed and violence and beheadings and what not. The hint that Radagast uses drugs is totally out of place in a movie for kids, and the Witch King of Angmar was scary enough for a horror film.

Despite all this, I still enjoyed it (at times). The movie undoubtedly has some strong points, for instance the scenery, computer animation (though at times it made it too cartoonish), the acting of Gandalf, Bilbo and Thorin, the character of Radagast, some funny moments, the scene where Bilbo plays riddle game with Gollum etc etc. As far as modern films go, this one is undoubtedly quite decent; it also has lots of action and even some moral component which Jackson couldn't totally omit. However, as the screen adaptation of the famous book of J. R. R. Tolkien, it falls short, in my opinion.

Not sure if I ever watch Part 2, which is much worse, from what I read about it. Anyway, that's my take on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.


  1. Did you like the original LOTR movie trilogy, Sanne?

    I liked them okay, but I hadn't read the books (still haven't read any Tolkien yet).

  2. You should definitely read the books, Will! The films were OK as films, but Jackson changed a lot of things and not for the better, imo. For instance, the only thing Arwen was doing in the book was sitting at home and stitching a banner for Aragorn:) The character of Faramir was totally ruined, and even Aragorn was changed. In the film trilogy he is full of self-doubt, while in the original books he is an uber alpha male of the Middle Earth and even Gandalf acknowledges it. He is shown as incredibly strong in spirit and he knows exactly what he wishes and gets it in the end. There are many other similar changes, but I will have to watch the films again to write about them. Eowyn in the book falls in love with Faramir and denounces fighting, saying that she will become a healer instead. The first movie was the closest to the original story.

    The book trilogy starts rather slowly but in the 2nd book the tempo increases. It has a great description of the battle for Gondor, and my absolutely favourite place is where Frodo says to Sam that the Dark Side will not always win and the part where Sam understands that one must do his duty no matter what, without any expectation of reward. It also has some fine drama between Faramir and his father when the latter send him to his death and then goes mad from remorse. It's a long book, but one which is certainly worth reading

  3. Oh and if you are planning on reading any Tolkien, you should start with The Hobbit, it's not that long and a great fun to read!

  4. Thanks Sanne! My dad has all the books, I think; I know he's read them all, and I think he has a copy of all of them.

  5. You know, PJ would be good at filming Silmarillion, though I read somewhere he couldn't get rights to it. That is definitely a book in his style, ful of gloomy depressive tales of extreme violence and suffering, the only one of Tolkien's books which I couldn't finish as I started getting nightmares. Not because it was so scary, but because it was so depresing. PJ would have a field day with it!:)

    1. it should be "full" and "depressing" but it's getting rather late over here:)