Film Review in Session: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” [Reviewing JRR Tolkien’s works]

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So close to the alleged Apocalypse and then in the confines of a dark and large room, I am suddenly in the middle ages and on an adventure of old. JRR Tolkien’s 1937 novel, “The Hobbit”, has been converted and released into a movie directed by Peter Jackson. Tolkien is mostly noted for his writing of fantasy. He was both a creative poet and well-read academic. In Oxford University he was an Anglo-Saxon professor, and his knowledge on this subject influenced many of his works. Born in South Africa, he managed to sustain a love of the Old English literature and its culture which then seeped into the Middle Earth. His most famous works, “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”, clearly reveal this preoccupation in their settings and the languages used, fabled and otherwise. Tolkien had seen the effects of World War I and World War II, and his works probe into the consequences of rapid urbanization, unbridled egocentricism and megalomania, and war.

This 2012 release of “The Hobbit” is the first of a three-part movie adaption.

The other two have been named “The Desolation of Smaug” and “There and Back Again”. These are due for release in theaters in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Many blogs, fans, reporters and critics have voiced the complaint that “The Hobbit” tries hard to be “The Lord of the Rings” in its basic nature but fails dismally because it is not its predecessor in its scale, style nor character. “The Hobbit” deals with 3 initial villains: a dragon named Smaug, the shadow of a necromancer that fans have deduced is Sauron the Dark Lord, in his spirit form, and lastly, the Orc chieftain Azog. The central protagonists become the narrator Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and a band of bandits who attempt to salvage their lost land-its stronghold and its treasure. This is an anti-climax to the near apocalyptic nature of “The Lord of the Rings”.  This movie was said to be coming into the shadow of a great film franchise, the reputation of “The Lord of the Rings” preceding itself. The problem is that the comparisons drawn between “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” are so specific and precise that they border on petty. I worry about the Goblin king who, in the climactic moment in which he is featured, seems like the stereotypical obese, filthy underground boss.  A look at the epic fights in the movie sees Peter Jackson trying to provide a level of depth and gore, the visuals so vivid and untamed. However, there is no pent-up tension nor dire consequence, like the loss of Middle Earth that gave “Lord of the Rings” its splendour and provided the audience with a level of agency and faith.

The respect, admiration and awe we had previously dealt to Gandalf were somehow lacking, Sir Ian McKellen again providing the guidance and worldly knowledge but giving no new angle. They did not write a sinister side or something unto the character that could potentially have developed him into a person also attempting to find themselves or their story. What is Gandalf’s story? I’m probably one of the few real fans wallowing around contemplating the origins and other adventures of Gandalf.

The Hobbit” lacks the sombreness and the fateful symbolism of “The Lord of the Rings” but I believe “The Hobbit” to be a great story, built of the classic stuff that have made Hollywood the success it is today. I promise that considering its now criticized flaws, it would have been a clear success had it been made before “The Lord of the Rings” franchise. This prequel is humble in scale and tale, hiding bigger, more powerful and sinister secrets in every crevice that pops out from the 3D footage. The thrilling calls to heroism manifest from the get go. The adventure of “The Hobbit” can be likened to Homer’s “Odyssey”. There are elements synonymous with stories of mythology like: mysterious destinations, secret maps, swords with feared and respected names and histories, and weird animals. There is also the thing that spurred this film franchise, the one ring that binds them all; the one ring that rules them all. This story also possesses elements that are remnant of the Old Testament and the newer one.

The movie begins with Elijah Wood appearing in a cameo as Frodo Baggins. A cute and funny titbit ensues with his aged uncle Bilbo as Ian Holm reprises his role from “The Lord of the Rings” franchise. From this point there is a quick succession of a birthday, dwarves arriving, musical numbers, the loss of a vibrant and rich land, a little conflict and awkward group dynamic and the start of a journey. Each character is introduced in size and manner as possessing traits worthy and necessary for the quest. The dwarves gay laughter within the first 30 minutes stirred mirth from cinema-goers whilst their song, led by the gorgeous and rugged Prince Thorin portrayed by Richard Armitage, under the light of the hearth, brought a tear to my eyes. To see such boisterous characters be so emotive, the lyrics they sang so heartbreaking, told me of where the heart of the story was. “The Hobbit” was never about the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, to me he became merely a smart and flustered character worthy of measured consideration. The song sung by the dwarves was about the loss of an ancestral home and that was monumental in itself. Howard Shore composed the music to “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”. The soundtrack was released on 11 December 2012.

Galadriel glides onto the screen in the form of Cate Blanchett, proving time again why she is one of the most revered actresses of her time. Poised, serene and all-knowing, she makes a cameo and owns the scene with her beauty and presence. While I am not partial to the short feature that Elrond (Hugo Weaving) was brought in for, he remains a steadfast authority. I believe the writers tried too hard to fill this first prequel film with the key characters of the “The Lord of the Rings” franchise.

I remain adamant that Andy Serkis is truly an exceptional actor. I used to hate Gollum, even when the writers willed him a back story I was repulsed. The writers didn’t provide enough breadth to explore the other facets of the vilified Gollum. However, one of my favorite scenes of all time in this JRR Tolkien franchise is the “riddle in the dark” scene between a lost Bilbo Baggins and the warped, primal and inhumane existence of Gollum. Bilbo agrees to Gollum that if he loses the game of riddles, Gollum may kill him. If Bilbo wins, then Gollum must show him a way out to safety from the caves. It is a riveting note of the spark of intellect and negotiation of minds. I was in a fit of giggles and quite captivated. Amidst his slightly schizophrenic ramblings he showed uncanny intellect in solving the puzzle of riddles.

Gollum asks Bilbo:

What has roots as nobody sees,

Is taller than trees,

Up, up it goes,

And yet never grows?”

Bilbo replies, in good humour: ” A Mountain

Bilbo then quizzes him:

“Thirty white horses on a red hill,

First they champ,

Then they stamp,

Then they stand still”

Teeth” says Gollum with glee. This goes on and on until Gollum riddles Bilbo:

“This thing all things devours:

Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;

Gnaws iron, bites steel;

Grinds hard stones to meal;

Slays king, ruins town,

And beats high mountain down.”

Bilbo thinks and contemplates it, clearly vexed. Gollum hisses with delight. He asks to no one in particular: “Is it nice, my preciousss? Is it juicy? Is it scuptiously crunchable?”and proceeds to look over at him with glee. This scene has spawned 120 new websites filled with new riddles and fan-fiction stories.

The technology used in the filming of this movie added to the beauty of the story. A creative collaboration came with the unlikely Oakley founder Jim Jannard, who created a new camera that Peter Jackson used in filming: the RED digital camera. Peter Jackson used 48 frames per second, and I saw the whole thing in 3D. The return to Middle Earth was in a smaller scale and while the production teams were excited at the technology, it felt like they were trying so hard to make it magical.

Peter Jackson’s go-to cinematographer Andrew Lesnie photographed eye-catching mountainous terrain though. I was sold on everything about the movie but others may not be. The statistics beg to differ though. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” opened to 56 foreign markets on Wednesday and has grossed nearly $138.2 million. USA weekend box office is $84.8 million which is “the largest-ever Friday-Sunday domestic debut for a December release” according to The worldwide total is estimated at $223 million.

Twitter provided me with some insight when Ongeziwe Lupuwana (@OzJustWarm) said: “It seems to have been made and aimed at the “Lord of the Rings” enthusiasts. All in all 7/10”. I think so to, but all I know with certainty is that it was a joyride for my imagination. I’d give it a 8.5/10

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