Film Review: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey

So the Countess was having the girls around for drinks last night, and I know when that happens it’s time to make myself scarce. Lord Marcus of Markby is no match for the Countess and her coven of cackling, wine-fuelled witches (they’re nice girls really). This presents to me a perfect opportunity to don a pair of snazzy 3D specs and catch a flick, ideally something the Countess would never watch in a million years.

Naturally, The Hobbit is my film of choice. Having read the book to The Lad last year (it took yonks, seriously, about four months), I was hoping to take him to the movie. He’s seen most of The Fellowship of the Ring (it is rated PG) but only up to the bit where the orcs ambush the Fellowship at the very end, when the battle got a bit realistic and I turned it off. He hasn’t seen the others, they’re rated 12A. Unfortunately, this first part in The Hobbit trilogy is rated 12A as well, though now I’ve seen it I’m not sure that rating is really warranted. But I suspect I will abide by the censors’ will.

My verdict? I loved it, and I feel the criticism it has received is ill-founded. Let’s start with the question of whether it seems, on the basis of the first film, that Tolkien’s slim children’s volume can sustain a trilogy of three hour films. My view is that it can. Having recently re-read the book, I was struck by how it is so obviously a story for children in that form. It is written extremely economically with very broad strokes. Major events are encompassed in a few paragraphs and a great deal happens behind the scenes, referred to in passing. It breezes through the story with a light tone which is perfect for a younger reader. But could it have been crushed into one film? No way, it would have been an unholy rush, a travesty. Even two films would have been a struggle judging by the material that is left at the end of the first. Bear in mind that a battle scene described in a page can be mightily entertaining when Peter Jackson brings it to life with state-of-the-art special effects. Just as background information, related in dialogue as it often is in the book, would be tedious on film – fully justifying the decision to film those scenes instead. Many critics have harped on this point to endlessly denigrate Jackson’s decision, accusing him of cinematic diarrhoea, but I suggest they revisit the source material (which some of them claim to love so much but which they probably haven’t actually read in decades) and imagine whether a two-hour children’s animation would really have been better. I mean, really – we’ve been there, haven’t we? It wasn’t pretty.

Further, it is impossible to consider this new trilogy without considering the films it will blend into. Jackson works hard to build a tone which matches the less epic, smaller scale of The Hobbit but will blend seamlessly with the earlier trilogy when viewed together. And Jackson knows that, for all the importance of a cinema release, these films will be most enjoyed by many in their own homes with the curtains drawn and a cup of tea at one’s elbow. Thus the arse-numbing three hours in the cinema is of no consequence, even with the inevitable extra 40 minutes of deleted scenes that will find their way in to the DVD release. Jackson is creating an immersive experience, we don’t want brevity and economy, we want to get lost in this world and we want to delay leaving it for as long as possible. Besides, at my age, my arse starts to get numb after half an hour so after that, who cares anyway? The phrase “horses for courses” comes to mind when responding to these critics. If you don’t like epic story-telling and three-hour movies, don’t watch ’em. And don’t judge them by the same standards you’d apply to a 90 minute, intimate art-house film. They are different beasts, to be indulged in according to one’s tastes and judged by standards which, though they overlap, are distinct.

Episodes not found in the novel, or implied or referred to in the background, fully justify their addition into the film. Radagast may seem to be comic relief at times but there is a steel there, hidden but glimpsed at times, and it is far better to give the character screen time than to pass over him with some throw-away line. Let’s just say he is no Jar Jar Binks. The workings of the White Council are an important aside which, with Radagast, will compliment the Ring narrative to bridge the two trilogies nicely. I didn’t feel anything added was indulgent, or at least not in a way I didn’t enjoy. And the portrayal of the dwarves’ company, by a fine troop of British and Irish actors, lent the characters more stature and seriousness to balance their comedic qualities than I ever expected they would.

Complaints about the new film rate? Did it make me ill or remind me of a TV soap, as some critics have said? I think perhaps they smoked some whacky baccy before they went to the cinema, you know. Maybe they went “oh, like, wow man, my head is spinning dude, it looks too f*ckin real man”. Like all of these sorts of things – like high definition TV (which was supposed to be, like, awesome man) you don’t notice it after a bit. It is true that some of the effects don’t quite tolerate the exposure of such filmic clarity, such as the scenes in which Radagast seeks to lead the Orc bandits off Thorin and Company’s trail, but one does get over it. In fact, in combination with the nicely subtle 3D it gives the film a fairy tale air which becomes its story and it’s place in the overal epic.

As trilogy-launchers go, was it as impressive as The Fellowship of the Ring? No. But it was very good. I didn’t want it to end. If I’d been in more comfortable surroundings I could have sat there for ever. We don’t want all films to be like that of course, but we do want these to be.

About Mark Winter

Dark Fantasy novelist (INFERNAL PREY). Blogging on politics and current affairs (GibberLog), science and history (BlatherLog), sci-fi, fantasy & horror (WittlerLog), business, product development & start-ups (MutterLog). View all posts by Mark Winter

2 responses to “Film Review: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey

  • CMrok93

    The commercial purpose is obvious when such a short and light book is split into three films in a clear attempt to recreate the epic greatness of LOTR. So, the tone seems a bit irregular (with nothing really urgent) but the story manages to be fluid and entertaining, despite this problem. Good review.

    • Lord Marcus of Markby

      Thanks for your comment, much appreciated. Yes, I guess I didn’t go near the commercial angle. I suppose I take that as read. Three movies means more bucks but they also cost more bucks ( though filming them at once creates cost efficiencies). It is a big gamble for a studio, maybe less so given the track record in this case. Point well made though, and I agree there was some unevenness in pace and tone.

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