Monday, December 17, 2012

Movie Review: The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey (2012)

I went to see this movie with six other people, ranging from die-hard Tolkien fans to those who were tagging along mostly just to see a movie with their friends. At the end of this three-hour adventure, the impressions were unanimously positive, and I can't help but agree.

This movie is very clearly - far more clearly than the book, if you ask me - a prequel to the Lord of the Rings films. A lot of the added material, much of it events that are implied or could have easily happened off-stage in the original story, sets up the relationships between such powerful players as Saruman, Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, and even the goofy but nevertheless very wise Radagast. This is the prelude to war, even though the war doesn't come about for another sixty years, and you can see the cunning of Gandalf as he moves his chess pieces onto the board and begins to carefully position them for the battle to come.

I had been wondering before seeing the film how they were going to take a book that was shorter than any of the three LotR novels, and expand it out into three whole movies. I think ultimately they did a serviceable job, although it is clear in some areas that things were done for the sake of making a good show of the story, rather than sticking to the narrative. One good example of this is the battle between the storm giants. I think this was an okay sequence, but at the same time, it could have been skipped or just reduced to "this storm is too much for us, we need to find shelter!". The storm giants are mentioned in passing in the book, but that's it. For the most part, I think that's going to be what we see in the next two films - things mentioned in passing or just touched upon in the book are going to be expanded into their own complete scenes, and we'll have to judge for ourselves whether this is just Peter Jackson playing around in Middle-Earth, or if it ultimately adds to the story in a meaningful way.

One aspect of the film that did actually bother me was the reliance on CG for the orcs and goblins. In the first three films, while there was some CG enhancement and sequences (the huge fights, the Moria goblins spider-climbing along the caverns, etc.), When seen up close and personal it was clear they were extras in costume. In this film, there might have been a bare handful of costumed and made-up extras, but the vast majority of bad guys are either wholly digital, or motion-captured like Gollum. I think it took a little something away from the spirit of the film, but such is the reality of making movies in the 21st century.

Regardless of a few quibbles I have about such things, I think this was an impressive movie, and if the next two films can maintain the standard set by An Unexpected Journey, I think this trilogy will stand tall next to their older siblings.