13 May 2013

#2LR Too Late Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I suppose that it would REALLY be "too late" if this Too Late Review was for the novel, but tonight's review is for the movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey released in 2012.  I am unsure if anyone here has read the book or watched the movie as of yet, but consider the following to be Spoiler Space.

The Hobbit starts, weirdly enough, just before the events of Fellowship of the Ring, with Bilbo Baggins writing his story as Elijah Wood/Frodo talks to him about party preparations.  It's a charming way to bookend the movie, I suppose, especially since I'm guessing we'll see this bookend again at the end of the second sequel (!!) to this.

Bilbo flashes back to his younger years as he writes, and ruminates on his first encounter with Gandalf after many years.  Gandalf is still grey, but has the chance to go into Tolkien's love for language, debating the exact meaning of "good morning" after Bilbo gives him the customary greeting.  Gandalf marks Bilbo's door, and in the evening all of the dwarves start showing up and making a mess out of Bilbo's house.

While Bilbo starts fuming over the doilies, Gandalf and the dwarves fill him in... he's to be the fourteenth member of their company, on a quest to return the dwarves back to their ancestral home.  We were treated to the story of Smaug... and the WHOLE TIME, I was expecting at least one person to yell "Fus ro DAH!". Guess I've been hitting the Skyrim too hard.

Bilbo demurs, but Gandalf has intimidated too many dwarves to let this opportunity go.  We'll go through this at the bottom, but Gandalf reminds Bilbo that he wasn't always a fat, happy, sedentary halfling... he used to frolic in the fields, and has "more than a bit of Took" in him.  (I wonder if Bilbo's signing up to be a burglar jived with Tolkien's love of language when Tolkien wrote that his mother was a Took.)

The dwarves leave without Bilbo temporarily... but Bilbo comes rushing out of the Shire, more than happy to join up with the group.  As they journey through the woods, they meet up with orcs on the mainroad.  Radagast the Brown, in the most high role since either Bill or Ted, serves as the decoy to try to get the group into Rivendell and the elves... where the dwarves really don't want to be.  Incidentally, I absolutely loved Radagast's rabbit-drawn sleigh.

Once in Rivendell, Gandalf meets up with Elrond, Galadriel, and even Saruman.  It has been forever since reading The Hobbit for me, but Christopher Lee played Saruman with a whole lot of foreshadowing. At the very least, it's not hard to see Saruman's attitude that he is only there for himself and is not concerned about anyone else.  Gandalf has to take time to convince Elrond and Galadriel of the dangers that Saruman dismisses, and then has Elrond read the map that shows the dwarves the backdoor to get rid of Smaug.

After the dwarves sneak out of Rivendell, they start for the Misty Mountains.  Two storm giants awaken out of the rock of the very mountain, in a rather cool effect, and start fighting like Rock'em Sock'em Robots.  The dwarves and Bilbo all take refuge in a cave, which happens to be the front porch for an goblin cave.  Bilbo gets separated from the dwarves, and then my favorite part of the whole book takes place.

In the bottom of the mountain lives Gollum.  He eats stray goblins that fall into the crevice, but Bilbo is relatively unharmed (!).  As Gollum dispatches the orc that Bilbo was fighting, the One Ring falls to the ground, unnoticed.  Bilbo sees the ring fall and picks it up.  After a couple of quick cuts back to the dwarves, Bilbo meets up with Gollum and they embark on the game of riddles... if Bilbo wins, Gollum shows him out.  If Gollum wins, he gets Bilboburgers.

After four riddles, Bilbo wonders aloud what's in his pocket.  Gollum takes it as a riddle (stupidly enough, that's a complete cheat) and asks for at least three guesses.  Of course, the One Ring is in there... and after Gollum's guesses are up, he realizes what's happened.  Bilbo accidentally wears it (in a scene that looks identical to Frodo's first wearing of the ring in Bree, in Fellowship of the Ring) and Gollum, in an attempt to find him, leads him out to the exit.

Just before, the dwarves manage to break free from the goblins in quite the long running battle, featuring the very wizard who is never late serving as the catalyst.  As platforms galore fall down around the company, the dwarves all manage to find the exit with Gandalf bringing up the rear.  As they exit and refind Bilbo, the last sequence of the movie starts... it seems that the leader of the dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield, has made an enemy of the goblin on the white warg.

The goblins and wargs take up the dwarf chase, managing to tree all of the dwarves and Gandalf.  Thorin Oakenshield tries to run the lead goblin off, but gets beat up.  Bilbo comes out of his tree to save Thorin... and again, just in the nick of time, the eagles that Gandalf has called for come to scatter goblin and warg alike.

At this point, the first third of the story ends.

Spoiler Space over.

There's lots to cover here.  Firstly, watching a movie such as this... a trilogy that is literally one book... is almost like watching a book on tape unfold on the screen.  Tolkien's love for language comes out in Gandalf's semantics as well as the songs that the dwarves sing in the beginning.  When I was re-reading the book not long ago, I was struck by how much poetry/song that Tolkien interwove in the book.  The poetry and songs add to the feeling of "so long ago", when only oral traditions were handed down in communities because so few people could read or write.  They managed to choreograph the dwarf song in the beginning, which I'm sure was not something that ran through Tolkien's mind when he drew up the scene decades ago.

Of course, the riddle competition between Bilbo and Gollum falls in this category too.  Riddles were the way to measure intelligence and wit... you had to think outside the box in order to get your answer.  Of course, it helps Bilbo immensely when Gollum gives him the answer to the riddle that he had the toughest time with... this just shows more of Tolkien's attention to detail and enjoyment of language, all the metaphors that can be ascribed to concepts and ideas that are somewhat incomprehensible when not in context.

Radagast the Brown also gets a call-out here.  It's been such a long time since I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I seem to recall that there was no screentime for him in the subsequent trilogy.  Seeing him here... fulfills all of my expectations.

The last point though, and I suppose that this shouldn't be a surprise to me but it is... as I watched this movie, I managed to come to the realization that this isn't just a high-fantasy book, it's not even just a quest book... it's Bilbo's coming-of-age story.  In some ways, this reminds me a whole heck of a lot of Ferris Bueller's Day Off -- Bilbo Baggin's Day Off.  Gandalf telling him to live it up, going off with the dwarves, constantly winning by the skin of his teeth.. I guess that John Waters isn't too far off from this, even if the settings are so wildly different.  I suppose that this is the way that the books work so well too... they're escapism, but it's escapism in such as way that it's universally recognized, even if subconsciously.

When you have the better part of eight and a half hours to paint a picture of one story, you're going to get a lot of detail.  I suppose that if there's anything to ding the movie on, it's the length.  I'm not even sure it'd take me nine hours to listen to the audiobook of The Hobbit... on the other hand, I'm not exactly seeing all of the escapes and set pieces as well as the lush yet stark New Zealand landscape either.

Final rating: 3.5

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