Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I had my trepidations for a number of reasons--mixed reviews, disinterest in the high frame rate 3D, the many times I've wondered if this really needs to be three freaking movies, the fact that I loathe Peter Jackson's last film, The Lovely Bones, with every fiber of my being--but of course late yesterday afternoon my wife and I went to see it and we both loved it.

Putting aside the question of whether it's really necessary that Peter Jackson take three movies to tell the story of The Hobbit, I thought the movie was exceedingly wonderful. The two biggest complaints about the movie seem to be that they don't like the HFR 3D--I just went to see it in perfectly adequate 2D--and that the movie is too bloated and too long. I kept waiting for the bloat and the filler and, honestly, I never saw any. Yes, I recognized that a lot of things were put in there that didn't happen in the novel or that weren't incredibly important to the story itself--except in the way that these movies have decided to also act as a stage-setting for The Lord of the Rings--but I don't really understand why that bothers anyone. Why should it? The Lord of the Rings movies were, for three years of my life, wonderful annual events that immersed me in the world of Middle-earth in a way that I really never expected them to. I underestimated the potential of those films, and they were wonderful surprises. A decade later, I underestimated again, and was just as wonderfully surprised.

So, it seems to me that the biggest complaints about this movie are really that we're getting too much of something great somehow.

Yes, the stakes are a bit lower. And yes, there is a lot more going on than in the original novel. But Peter Jackson has retained the heart of the story, which is that an Englishman goes to war and discovers himself and what he is capable of, and the true value of home. And that's a worthy story, and all of the additions and all of the time being taken to tell it do not diminish that story one bit. I wouldn't trade those magnificent stone giants, Christopher Lee, Sylvester McCoy on a sled drawn by rabbits, or a single second of the escape from the goblins for a shorter running time. I really wouldn't. I'm in the best fantasy world ever created with the best tour guide I could imagine, and if he wants to take time out for subplots about warg-riding orcs or the White Council, I don't mind at all.

Some observations:

:: The running time gives Peter Jackson a lot of time to immerse us in the dinner scene and let us get to know the dwarves, and I love that. Yes, some of the makeup is a little silly--Becca noted that some of the dwarves' hairpieces look like combed-out rugs--but I like the diversity of the design and I don't think it's at the expense of being able to take the characters seriously. Richard Armitage is great as Thorin--Jackson shoots him in a number of slow, sexy close-ups, like he's on the cover of a dwarven romance novel--but my personal favorites are Ken Stott as Balin and James Nesbitt as Bofur. (Remember when James Nesbitt was going to be the Doctor? I really wish that had happened. Still hope it does, thought it won't.) The scene with the dwarves singing "Misty Mountains" is as good as I'd hoped it would be.

:: Some people don't like the introduction with Bilbo and Frodo, but I like knowing that he started writing There and Back Again on the same day as his "Long-Expected Party." (And yes, I do geek out, as I did in the LOTR movies, when they use the chapter titles in the dialogue.)

:: The way the film was shot gives it a high definition look that isn't quite as realistic as the LOTR films. I don't think it detracts, it's just something I noticed. This film has much more of a storybook sort of look to it.

:: Not that I need any more proof, but Barry Humphries is utterly perfect.

:: Lovely to be back in Rivendell, and I will never agree that the White Council scene didn't need to be there, because there's no such thing in a film ever as unnecessary Christopher Lee.

:: The actors are wonderful; Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis are of course excellent, but I can't say enough about how perfect Martin Freeman is as Bilbo. He plays Bilbo as an English country gentleman, which is of course exactly how Bilbo begins, and it is note-perfect.

:: The trolls were just so damn neat.

:: The "Riddles in the Dark" sequence somehow looks exactly, exactly as I picture it every time I read the book. The animation on Gollum was amazing.

I really have nothing bad to say about it. And from this point on, I don't see myself needing to engage in questions like "Is it necessary to have a three-film adaptation of The Hobbit?" because this film has satisfied me and I no longer really care what it "needs" to be, because I adore what it is. All I want to do now is go and see it again.


Tallulah Morehead said...

When you go see it again, try the 48 fps 3-D version. That's what I saw, and man, you are THERE! (Plus, at least where I saw it opening day, everyone in the audience at the 48 fps 3-D version were given free The Hobbit t-shirts. The folks seeing the 24 fps 3-D and the 24 fps flat versions had to go home shirtless. And we got the Man of Steel trailer also in 3-D.)

Most of my reactions to it were identical to yours. At the end of the three hours, I wanted a bathroom break and then THREE MORE HOURS!

Barry Humphires, whom you know I idolize and whom I am proud to call a friend, has one flaw: his age. Not that there's anything wrong with being 78, just that the length of time before we lose him is too short. He's retiring from stage work as he's now too old to tour shows, and that is a gigantic loss. If I could change one thing about him, it would be to make him young again. This applies even more so to Sir Christopher Lee, who is even older, and even closer to leaving the party.

Did you notice Lee never moved? In his first shot he's standing still, in all the others he is seated. In Burke and Hare (in which he is murdered by Andy Sirkis. Gollum killing Saruman. Who saw that coming?) Lee played his entire role lying down. In Dark Shadows he is seated for all of his screen time. I just finally saw Hugo a couple weeks ago and was relieved to see that he actually can still walk.

I just rewatched Martin Freeman's turn as Dent Arthur Dent and realized how similar Arthur and Bilbo are. Both are basically reactive characters who begin as settled, complacent middle-class Englishmen with a wacky weird friend (Ford Prefect, Gandalf) who suddenly and with no warning snatch him out of his complacent existence and whisk him off to wild and crazy adventures, while he plays our eyes in these new worlds. Come to think of it, that describes Dr. Watson also.

They might as well have renamed the trolls Larry, Moe and Curly.

Armitage was indeed a sexy dwarf, but the sexy prize goes to Kili. First time I ever found myself mentally undressing a dwarf.

Did you stay through the closing credits? Some interesting ones: "Second Unit Director: Andy Sirkis." "The Torture Song performed by Barry Humphries."

I may never travel to New Zealand, but I'm begining to feel like I have been there, since I've met all the wizards, Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast and even, yes, Sauron (Sala Baker, who played Sauron in the prologue of Fellowship of the Ring), as well as Sam Gangee and some hobbitish guy named Peter Jackson. And of course, my friend, the Great Goblin. Am I bragging? You betcha!

SamuraiFrog said...

"First time I ever found myself mentally undressing a dwarf."

Third time for me.

On my next viewing, I'll check out the HFR 3D. I wanted to view it flat beforehand because I've heard so many conflicting opinions about the effect of it. I've seen a number of negative reviews that are really more about the 3D and less about the content of the film!

Tallulah Morehead said...

I have seen few reviews that reflected how I felt about the picture. My rather weird review of it can be found here: