Re:View – ‘The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey’

The Arts


The fourth film in the series is not for purists. JRR Tolkien’s short book was far lighter and less substantial that LOTR, and therefore needs tricking out with extra plot if it’s to fulfil the studio’s brief of three 3-hour 3D movies. Yet this isn’t automatically a bad thing. LOTR made all kinds of similar decisions to turn the trilogy into something filmable. Out went the Tom Bombadil section and other sequences that failed to move the plot on. So here we have the full set of characters back on a beefed-up ¬†quest that will eventually arrive at the battle with Smaug, the gold-loving dragon.

It starts slowly; the arrival of the trolls at Hobbiton takes too long – we get the joke and are anxious to move on, although it’s important to show the disruption to shire life. And the stop-off at the Elven outpost Rivendell is soporific, although it’s good to see Christopher Lee with a meatier role. Rivendell seems like a cross between Niagra Falls and Sevenoaks, with its inhabitants drifting and wafting about, and I half expected to find it full of Oxfam shops. Then it’s as if Jackson suddenly wakes up, piling on the orcs and wolves and trolls in well-staged battles until Gollum arrives.

Here we kick back into what we’ve all come to see; the corrupting power of evil made manifest. An electrifying sequence between Martin Freeman’s Bilbo and Andy Serkis’s Gollum, solving riddles to see if one lives, is allowed to play out to a proper length, and from then one it’s completely thrilling, concluding with a wonderful shot of a bird tapping a snail against a rock, which is enough to waken Smaug from his slumbers.

Visually there’s been a lot of bitching from those purists about the decision to shoot at 48 frames per second. They’re wrong, the director was right. What the faster frame rate does is allow in more light to compensate for the darkening effect of 3D, so that the massive underground shots of mountains collapsing and dwarves escaping over bridges is now crisp enough to be able to follow clearly. It sorts out the details, rescuing the screen from muddiness and making the 3D much easier on the eye, and more subtle. The film does not ‘look like video’ (which in any case usually flattened out due to harsh lighting) but a dense, clear tapestry, and is often breath-catching.

I could have powered through all nine hours in one sitting, although some women in front of me were visibly bored – but then, perhaps this is the series that sorts out the genders more than Star Wars; I know very few females who’ve enjoyed the battle sequences as much as males. For me then, a wonderful return to this world – but then I found the books leaden and pompous, and welcome the idea that the film takes their essence and makes them more exciting.

13 comments on “Re:View – ‘The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey’”

  1. Steve says:

    Interesting; I too found the books “leaden and pompous” and enjoyed the films a great deal more. It’s generally the other way around.

  2. Laurel says:

    I agree, speaking as a pro-LOTR female, I loved the books as a kid, but they don’t stand up to re-reading. I thought the films improved them a great deal.

  3. Alison says:

    Agreeing totally with Laurel here. The books are stodgy and po-faced and quite frankly boring – although you risk being bludgeoned with the omnibus edition if you say such a thing in the wrong circles. The films used the best bits and made the whole thing fun.

  4. Dan Terrell says:

    Thank you, thank you, guys for the “leaden and pompous” comments. I have never been able to read the books. They weren’t particularly known and popular when I was a kid. In fact I can’t remember anyone talking them up.
    My younger brother and sisters and some of their kids love them, but that was just 20/20 years ago. The language in them sets me to yawning and itching. So thanks. I’m not alone.

  5. Alan Morgan says:

    Hard to get to the flicks, but as you say changes will have had to be made. Certainly the trolls arriving in Hobbiton adds a new slant from the musical dwarfs.

    I was talking about LotR the other day – and aye, as many here say, a rare case of the film being better than the books. Nonetheless they were something all their own and compared to the tenth-book-in-the-trilogy that is the way in the genre now even LotR seems almost svelte in comparison.

    Now if they filmed some Leiber or Moorcock then we’d see something!

  6. Steve says:

    There was a spoof of LoTR put out back in the ’70’s by either Harvard Lampoon or the National Lampoon called “Bored of the Rings” that I found hilarious. Instead of “Bilbo” we of course had “Dildo”; instead of Gandalf, “Goodgulf” (a brand of petrol in the States at the time) and so on. I have no idea if it’s available anywhere but I bought it as a paperback in….I think ’72. Those were the days during which I would literally spend what little money I had on books rather than food. I didn’t regret it then and still don’t. Food for the mind.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    One of our Bookcrossers had a copy of Bored of the Rings last week. I wasn’t there so I didn’t hear where it came from. I still read the trilogy over and when it gets a little stodgy I remind myself he’s writing a morality story in harsh times. It reads like the King Arthur and the Roland and Oliver we had when I was a kid, in a little later time. It’s “elevated language” which you always get in heroic stories, something that even the hobbits realize.

  8. snowy says:

    ‘Bored of the Rings’ is still about, last time I saw it was in a box set with two later parodies by Adam Roberts, ‘The Soddit’ and ‘The Sellamllion’

    The decade just gone was rife with parodies for some reason.

    ‘The Da Vinci Cod’
    ‘Barry Trotter and the Shameless Parody’
    ‘Barry Trotter and the Unnecessary Sequel’
    ‘Barry Trotter and the Dead Horse’

    And one just for the tagline;

    ‘The Chronicles of Blarnia: The Lying Bitch in the Wardrobe’

  9. Steve says:

    Snorted water out my nose at the last one! Thanks snowy, I needed that larf!

  10. Dan Terrell says:

    To me Tolkien looks as if he’d write stodgy prose and his morality comes on as overly-leaden. But what has bothered me the most – at least in the little of his I’ve read – is his characters tend to SAT or stand around talking. Now, I find a lot of SAT is in series books for children and tech thrillers for adults.

  11. admin says:

    Stewart Lee came up with ‘Harry Potter and the Tree of….Nothing’.
    You have to hear him say it.

  12. As another pro-LOTR female I loved The Hobbit and we have an annual LOTR extended version film marathon. But I haven’t read the books for ages and r how I’d feel about them now.

  13. Griffin says:

    Despite its solemnity etc I have a special place in my heart for LOTR. I was stuck for two long days and three nights before I could draw my dole money in the summer of 71. My Swiss gf had dumped me, and I was dossing in a house by the canal in Nottingham, where I went to uni. I had one bag of teabags, one loaf and some butter. I went on a scout around the house – no food, some good LPs and some unmentionable stuff – and then I found a copy of LOTR.
    Cue a tea-n-toast marathon that culminated in sleep-deprived me cheerfully thanking the dole-office clerk having finished the book in the early hours. LOTR saved the week!

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