Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Of Furry Feet & Long Journeys

I went into Peter Jackson's The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey with high expectations.  Jackson will forever be known as the man who brought Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy to the screen (and also threw Andy Serkis into the stratosphere) and fans everywhere eagerly awaited his take on Hobbit.

I may be in the minority on this one - and that's okay - but I found Hobbit to be middle of the road.  (See how I avoided the cheap pun there by not saying "middle (Earth) of the road"?  It was hard to resist, let me tell you!)  Hobbit is being split into three - count 'em, three - movies, which I find astounding.  Jackson is managing to do this by straying far from the actual text of Hobbit to bring in material covered in appendices (and, quite possibly, more than a touch of The Silmarillion).  This film, the first of the three parts, clocks in at a hefty two hours and forty-six minutes and in parts, I felt every second on it.  New Zealand looks gorgeous, but let's just say there's a lot of walking through it in this film.

I can't fault the actors - Martin Freeman is up to the task of playing Bilbo Baggins (the stay-at-home hobbit who discovers a bit of his wilder Took side), Ian McKellan and the aforementioned Andy Serkis resume their roles as Gandalf and Gollum in splendid fashion.  Other old friends appear as well and, while some purists will howl at the departures from the Tolkien book, I was willing to run with it.  Let's face it - book adaptations are always tricky - (what to keep, what to discard, what to condense are major questions to answer in crafting the script and you know that, no matter what path you take, you're going to make someone angry), and that's even more true for a work that includes "Tolkien scholar" among the credits.  Still, some of the humor falls flat for me and feels forced rather than springing from the scene itself.  On the plus side, I loved seeing Bilbo's "hobbit hole" invaded by a host of unexpected (and ravenous) guests.

Two items to mention:  the "riddle scene" between Bilbo and Gollum and the appearance of Thorin Oakenshield.  The Bilbo/Gollum scene is a the heart of all of the LoTR books, for without it, nothing else really matters.  We've got to get that ring to Bilbo so it can go to Frodo so that, so that, so that.  It was apparently the first scene Freeman filmed and it's marvelous.  Andy Serkis has had years to master Gollum and the technology of motion-capture continues to develop.  Utterly compelling.  On the other hand, let's discuss Richard Armitage (who played the villainous Sir Guy in the recent BBC production of Robin Hood) who plays the leader of the dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield.  I enjoyed his performance quite a bit, but I disliked how he stood out from the other dwarves.  Sure, it's a yeoman's task to distinguish 13 dwarves, but while other dwarves appear to be - well, dwarvish - Armitage has matinee-idol good looks, flowing dark locks, and overall appears to simply be a somewhat short human, rather than a member of another Middle Earth race.  I dislike this - it seems that Jackson didn't trust that the audience could accept a hero who didn't look like us.

In short (ha! Well, one pun's okay, I expect), Hobbit looks great and does a credible job of storytelling, although it also drags in places.  Big screen?  Maybe, but don't pay full price.


Didge said...

I agree with pretty much all of this.

Very nicely done.

The only point on which I don't exactly agree is the part about Jackson being untrustworthy of the audience. I feel he'd already given us that hero in the hobbit, Frodo, in LotR.

That's just me.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Jackson has taken a 138 page children's story and turned it into a nine hour trilogy that has already failed. It will make him millions and in the end that is all he cares about. It's hard to find a great story teller these days, and those who try are usually blocked in some way by those who want female skin, and same sex relationships to dominate modern TV, and movies. Where are the great musicians of days past and the musicals produced to their tunes?

Mockingbird said...

Mind you, Cly, I think Jackson's take on the LotR trilogy works - yes, it takes some liberties, but I think he does a very nice job of capturing both the feel and the scope of the original novels. That said, I find his plans for The Hobbit (trilogy??) problematic.