director Peter Jackson
viewed: 12/24/2012 at AMC Metreon 16, SF, CA
Firstly, you have to accept that this three-hour film is the initial film of a three movie adaptation of a moderate-length novel. The fact that Peter Jackson decided to take The Hobbit to such great “lengths”, not just two films but three, with a guesstimate total running time of 9 hours, while he managed to make the much longer three novels of The Lord of the Rings into three long movies… It’s a level of indulgence that is difficult to get over. But that is what you have to do, that is, if you’re going to watch it. Because The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is indeed a three-hour part one that includes about half of the book.
I’ve got to assume that you know the story.
Supplemental to the narrative, Jackson adds a significant preamble, with the elderly Bilbo putting pen to paper to write his story of his adventure. So the film doesn’t even get going for about 15 or 20 minutes. And most significantly, there is an entire subplot about a one-armed orc who killed Thorin’s grandfather (and who Thorin disarmed) who is hunting and battling Thorin (probably throughout the trilogy).
You see, I utterly think that this film would have benefited to sticking to the original narrative and not trying to bulk up the whole and keeping it a lot tighter. I just read The Hobbit with the kids earlier this year, so I’m more familiar with the novel now than I would have been overall. And I’m forced to acknowledge the biggest issue with Jackson’s adaptation, which is its length and segmentation.
Outside of that, it’s actually pretty good. Like his LOTR series, the designs and attention to details in creating the world of J.R.R. Tolkein’s Middle Earth is downright exquisite. Casting is largely fantastic, most especially Martin Freeman as “the hobbit” himself. He’s quite a wonderful Bilbo. Just looking at each of the dwarfs, it’s easy to see how much love and invention went into their rather baroque designs. And the New Zealand settings that fill in for the images of the world of the film are amazing too.
I saw it with the kids and they enjoyed it too. Clara was a little restless. Who could blame her? At least we weren’t sitting in the full marathon of the entire narrative.
But my other biggest criticism is in part of the change to the narrative. With the added orc storyline, the dwarfs, Bilbo, and Gandalf find themselves treed by not the goblins as in the book but by the orcs. And since, I suppose, Jackson thought we needed more drama than the mere rescue of the group by giant eagles, we get the first showdown between Thorin and the one-armed orc in which Thorin is nearly killed. He is instead rescued by Bilbo, who knocks the orc down.
The problem with this is the whole nature of the character of Bilbo. He’s a coward and a bit of a pacifist. He has a few moments of action, but he’s much more of a guy of wits and complaints. His most heroic moment in the book is in the freeing of the dwarfs from the spiders (which is due for the next film). And in the end, it’s his pluck, cleverness, faithfulness and bravery that earn him Thorin’s deathbed acclaim (at the very end). But here he gets a flash of David versus Goliath heroism and praise to help round out the first movie with a sort of upbeat ending.
I’ve got less complaint about the other changes but changing the nature of the main character in this way seems to cheapen the story even more than the extension and epic epicness of the length that Jackson takes his version of the film.
It’s a great book, a great story. It’s cool to see it visualized with such appreciation and detail. And it’s entertaining.
But it’s long. And this is only a third of the film/story.