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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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I am sorry to report that I was disappointed by The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first installment of Peter Jackson’s film trilogy based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

Jackson’s first mistake was trying to make a trilogy at all. The Hobbit is shorter than any of the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings. Thus its story could have been told completely and satisfyingly in a single movie of around two hours.

While The Lord of the Rings movies are long, they are actually in many ways masterworks of dramatic compression. To make The Hobbit into a trilogy, however, Jackson has attempted a masterwork of dramatic padding. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a masterwork of dramatic padding.

There are three main types of padding in this movie: (1) slow and boring sequences, (2) fast and lame sequences, and (3) additions to the text.

The first 30 minutes of the movie have a particularly slow and padded feel. It is as if Jackson decided simply to use the book as a script.

Later in the movie, we get a lot of quick and lame padding: chase scenes, battle scenes, scenes of people falling and holding on for dear life, scenes of people falling hundreds or thousands of feet, again and again, and then bouncing back into action, as indestructible as Wile E. Coyote. It is supposed to be exciting. But it is so overdone that it becomes tedious and farcical. (There was a bit of this kind of padding in The Return of the King, e.g., as Sam, Frodo, and Gollum climbed the secret stairs into Mordor, and near the end when they reach Mount Doom.)

The extra-textual padding comes from other works by Tolkien, such as the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings. These Appendices provide some context for The Hobbit, and if they had been used judiciously, they could have added more than just starch and filler. But in Jackson’s hands, all they amount to is a series of contrived and jarring cameos from characters from The Lord of the Rings.

Only four characters from The Hobbit actually reappear in The Lord of the Rings: Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins, Elrond, and Gollum. But in this movie, we also see Frodo, the aged Bilbo played by Ian Holm (although he actually looked like somebody else made up like Ian Holm), Saruman, and Galadriel. The wizard Radagast, who is only mentioned in the novel, is written into the story and given quite an extensive role.

The trouble with all this padding is that the basic plot of The Hobbit feels a little padded as it is, with a one-damn-thing-after-another feel to it.

Jackson’s second mistake is that he failed to strike the right tone for the movie. The Hobbit was written for teens and young adults. The Lord of the Rings virtually defined fantasy literature for grownups. The Hobbit is a fairy tale, whereas The Lord of the Rings is mythic and epic. Like every fairy tale, The Hobbit does touch upon serious themes, but they are treated in a light and farcical way. The Lord of the Rings is far more serious and sublime and moving. Jackson should have remained faithful to the storyline of The Hobbit, but he should also have teased out and amplified its serious elements, to unify it with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Jackson does try to do this, but he also turns the farcical elements up to 11, and junks the story up with extra-textual elements, giving the whole movie a diffuse and strangely schizophrenic feel.

I did somehow manage to enjoy this movie. It got better as it went on. I do recommend it. It is Tolkien, after all. If you love Tolkien like I do, you’ve already seen it anyway.

I have touched on the bad parts. The best parts include the encounter with the three trolls, which is genuinely funny, and Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum, which is pure magic.

Martin Freeman was well-cast as the younger Bilbo, and his performance is as good as Jackson allows, getting better and better as the movie picks up its pace. The same is true of Ian McKellen’s Gandalf. As for the 13 dwarves, you can hardly develop so many characters. Richard Armitage is a charismatic Thorin Oakenshield, Ken Stott is an extremely likable Balin, and Aiden Turner as Kíli is the Legolas of this trilogy, probably the world’s first dwarf sex symbol. (None of the dwarves are played by actual dwarf actors, apparently.)

The music by Howard Shore was beautiful, as were the sets and costumes and landscapes (although the over-use of pastels gave many scenes the creepy, cloying tweeness of parts of The Lovely Bones). The special effects, particularly the monsters, were breath-taking.

Like The Lord of the RingsThe Hobbit is completely free of any anti-white ideology. Everything about this movie is a celebration of whiteness, with a particular emphasis on Nordic and Celtic myth, culture, and art.

But somehow, overall, the magic is lacking. This is The Hobbit as brought to us by the director of King Kong and The Lovely Bones rather than of The Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson was certainly capable of making a great movie of The Hobbit, but I believe that he simply lacked faith in the material. Let us hope that the next two movies are much more tightly edited and properly pitched, so that this one is merely an anomaly, merely Peter Jackson’s equivalent of The Phantom Menace.

 

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23 Comments

  1. Posted December 15, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this review. It is largely what I expected after I first heard that Jackson was going to make it into a trilogy. Although padding was inevitable, I had hoped that he would draw on “The Silmarillion” or Tolkien’s other works for expansion purposes, rather than actually inventing things that weren’t in any of the books. As much as I loved the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (although it still pales in comparison to the books), it seems obvious from what you wrote that the Jackson Tolkien enterprise is now nothing but a moneymaking machine. After all, why make only one blockbuster when you can rake in the bucks for three Christmases in a row again?

    Unfortunately, cinema remains the only artistic form in which commercialism remains unavoidable, given the enormous budgets required for most projects.

  2. Andrees
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Nothing Jackson has made is nearly as well received as the LOTR films, so he’s just trying to make Hobbit films as similar as possible. He opened this film up, like the Fellowship of the Ring, with a sweeping, fast paced historical background scene, for instance.

  3. Jaego
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Any Blacks? Incredible pressure was put on Jackson to integrate Middle Earth for Lord of the Rings. He deserves alot of credit for resisting. Sad to hear about the falling away on authenticity. Game of Thrones is very real fantasy, with beautiful sets – but without the spiritual aspect of Tolkien.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted December 15, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      No blacks.

    • Lew
      Posted December 15, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      George R.R. Martin has a very grim perspective on the human condition. Tolkien was deeply pessimistic too. Despite the grand and exalting aspects of LOR, Tolkien’s most recurrent themes are decline and death.

      On the film itself, I’m disappointed but not surprised. I knew there was no way Peter Jackson would be able to meet expectations even under ideal circumstances (not being forced to pad the material for commercial considerations).

      Very disappointing Jackson sold out to the dark side just like George Lucas.

  4. Duke Mantee
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    This only makes me feel like reading the entire set again.

    I am not sure I will watch this. I have my own mental picture of Middle Earth and the characters and I do not want it corrupted by Hollywood or Pinewood or whomever. I don’t believe Tolkien would have gone for it either.

    Glad to hear the neighborhoods haven’t been integrated there in Hobbitown at least.

  5. James Hedman
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    It’s absurd to characterize the movie’s rendition of Sam’s heroic carrying of Frodo, literally on his back, up the side of Mt. Doom as “padding.” In many ways Sam was the most noble and heroic character of all in the entire trilogy; and Tolkien himself made allusions to this by comparing Sam to the private soldiers who bore the real brunt of the four years of war in the trenches of World War One.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted December 15, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

      I wasn’t talking about that.

  6. Mike
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    He could have made a great film by judiciously sticking to the book, but he chose, instead, to make a great amount of money, by bastardizing it into a trilogy; what a shame, and shame on him!

  7. Lew
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    I saw it earlier tonight and was pleasantly surprised. I had low expectations to start with that were further lowered upon reading this review this morning. It held up better than I expected, I suppose because my expectations were so low. The worst parts were definitely the places where Jackson fabricated material. There is so much material in the LOTR appendixes and in The Silmarillion he could have used for filler. He didn’t need to make it up. Then again, he had to make a movie with mass appeal which rules out pleasing people who know more about the history of Middle Earth than many real places. The original films showed artistic achievement and huge commercial success aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. It’s rare but it happens. Maybe the next two will be better.

  8. Yarrgol
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    I think you’re going out of your way to whine and be miserable about it. Whining and being miserable is standard in these sorts of circles, but let’s try to enjoy movies for a change, eh? I thought it was a good re-adaption of Tolkien’s material to a different style of storytelling, and this sort of re-adaption is in fact far more traditional than slavishly worshiping old stories as dead marble antiques.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted December 16, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      Adaptation is necessary for the screen, since it can show what the printed page can only tell, and often very hastily. But adaptations can be more or less faithful, and adaptations can have more or less faith IN the basic material. Jackson lacked faith in THE HOBBIT as written, so he junks it up with needless additional material, making it slow in some places and farcically frenetic in others.

  9. Mr. Langford
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    I actually liked it a lot. Yes, there are some slow parts and padding here and there but overall I think we’re in for a good trilogy.

  10. Linda Armijo
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    I agree with your comments on all points, after seeing the movie. I am also a huge Tolkien fan and have read the LOTR and Hobbit many times. I did enjoy this movie, but the additional scenes that I suppose were to make the movie more exciting, I felt would have been just as exciting if left as written, especially the cave sequence. Seeing the ponies vanish through a crack in the rear of the cave is more compelling than falling through the floor… The goblin lair scenes were so overdone I couldn’t wait for them to end. Also, Richard Armitage as Thorin was surprising (I thought he would be much older and more reverent) but…he is hot! He might be a rival for Aragorn if not height-challenged. The chasing of Radagast by Wargs was also too long and added zero to the overall movie. And who is this white Orc? Why do we need him? However, I will wait patiently for the next installments and hope they do not deviate more than this first installment.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted December 16, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      The white orc is there because Jackson didn’t think the book has enough excitement as it is.

      I am sure that millions of women were muttering silent prayers that Richard Armitage and Aiden Turner really aren’t dwarves.

  11. Lew
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    I paid an extra $5.00 to see the ” high frame rate” 3D version. It was my first time seeing a “3D” movie. I’ve been avoiding them since up until now the 3D movies have all looked like garbage. Overall, I thought the 3D element was tolerable but distracting. If that’s the future of cinema, I’ll be disappointed. Although, the younger generation might not care if they grow up with 3D movies.

    My wife said something about that actor Armitage too. One film element I thought was stupid was having an character with such a regal bearing as Thorin, a king, leading a band of crass and undignified clowns.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted December 16, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      In the novel, Thorin is portrayed as a blowhard, although he does noble deeds. His portrayal in the film is Jackson’s attempt to make him another Aragorn, an exiled king reclaiming his throne. That is actually a good idea, but if he was going to do that — which gives the movie something of the same elevated tone of LOTR — then why did he also exaggerate, and even add to, the buffoonish elements as well?

  12. Mike
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    My sister went to see this film and told me that it was fabulous. And she has read the book more than once. She thinks that the critics are just being ansty in order to boost their credibility.

  13. Coenradt
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    I think I missed the original’s extensive stunt crew most of all. The extensive CGI employed in their stead added a video gameish quality to the action scenes. Comparing the climactic goblin battle to Helm’s Deep is night and day. The latter was touching, human and dramatic. This one felt exactly like the gratuitous carnival ride that it was.

    Still, it’s always nice to spend time in Middle Earth. I hope Jackson tunes it down a bit for the next two.

  14. Posted December 17, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    At the risk of sounding like one of those guys that tastes Jews in their sandwiches, I was struck by wave after wave of what I interpreted as Peter Jackson’s Jewareness in this film.

    [Spoiler alert]

    The dwarven kingdom of Erebor represents a sort of golden age (literally) city of the pre-diaspora dwarves. We are treated to scenery depicting dwarves doing what they do best, crafting and digging for more riches. Erebor is indescribably beautiful and it is understandably the envy of that corner of the world. Eventually Thror, the grandfather of Thorin Oakenshied, is overcome by a sickening love of wealth. The Material moves to the front, Spirit takes a back seat. This fall to materialism coincides with the arrival of Smaug, and Erebor is obliterated in a way that might remind us of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the end of the Pharisees.

    Enter the Dwarven Diaspora. The dwarves are humiliated. They are forced to work odd jobs throughout Middle Earth as craftsmen, never quite fitting in. Their elven friends refused them in their time of need and Thorin adopts an unquenchable grudge against not only the wood elves but all goy . . . elves. This pity for the dwarves without a land and their quest to recapture the land without a people . . . well, without dwarves anyway, becomes Bilbo’s motivation for remaining on this dangerous quest.

    Peter Jackson could have left it at that, a sort of distortion of the original work by Tolkien and a not so subtle pat on the back to neocons to keep doing what they’re doing. Three cheers for the return of the Dwarves and the Jews to their homes! But then Jackson treats us to something more.

    Gandalf, the other wizards, and the monarchs of the immortal elves are all the Guardians of Middle Earth. Sure, the goal of the dwarves is all fine and dandy but they, particularly Gandalf, recognize that there is something bigger looming on the horizon. Their idyllic world is threatened by something greater; an evil that is growing and must not be able to seize the power of the dragon, Smaug. This is why Gandalf is encouraging and assisting in the dwarven Zionist quest to recapture Erebor. Their pride means nothing to Gandalf. In fact, it disgusts him. Gandalf is a guardian of the Traditional world. Dwarves be damned, what he wants is to keep the machine gun, the bomber planes, and the nukes out of the hands of the industrialist demon of the Enlightenment, Sauron. The dark lord easily captures the imagination and allegiance of the foul creatures of the world, those grossly dedicated to the Self. But the real battle takes place in the hearts of men. Will they give in to the Self? Will they find the courage they need when things look darkest? Will they reject the Material, or the Spirit? The Guardians of Middle Earth rightfully fear the trend but they will not surrender to it or make the job any easier for the enemy than it already is.

    I see in this film a reminder. The Jews are not our friends and very often they are our enemies, but there is a more crucial battle going on here. Despite our protests and efforts to educate, if we surrender to the Material over the Spirit, the battle is already lost. It’s not enough to learn about Traditionalism, we must become Traditionalists.

  15. Chonodomarius
    Posted December 18, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad someone else found the climb up Mt. Doom as painful as I did. I kept expecting the orc army to shout ” Get on with it! “. The time squandered could have been used on The Scouring of the Shire, which is completely omitted. I didn’t finish viewing The Hobbit, my five year old became bored very quickly.

  16. Vick
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 5:06 am | Permalink

    I haven’t seen the Hobbit yet, but I will say that while I admire Peter Jackson (Braindead is funny as hell), I find his entire Tolkien franchise to be a huge disappointment.

    Jackson should have started with the Hobbit and kept it at one, perhaps longish, film. Then he should have moved on to the Trilogy, where if there was any place to add extra movies, this would be it. The Fellowship alone could easily have been two movies.

    Jackson’s screenplays for the Trilogy are just miserable and it sounds like the Hobbit is no different. Perhaps in 10 or 20 years someone will come along and take another stab at it, kind of like how the Dark Knight/Batman series was a second Hollywood go-around at the Batman story.

  17. Jack
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I think people doth protest too much! Its a good enjoyable film I think most of the critiques I have heard are somewhat pedantic.

    I would not say the film is so much pro-white as it is not massively pc. It is simply free of leftist subliminalism and tokenism. But for that reason as a fascist I like it more.

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