Rated PG-13 for casual decapitations. I think I heard that the Extended Edition of The Battle of the Five Armies was rated R. It has to be because of the overuse of decapitations, right? I mean, decapitations in Middle Earth tend to be rad, but I always saw The Hobbit as more of a children's story. He wrote it for his kids, didn't he? I mean, the decapitations aren't the only violence, so you have to take that into account as well. There's also scary stuff throughout. PG-13
DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson
Okay, it's not The Lord of the Rings. But I've always stood by The Hobbit movies for being mostly pretty amazing. I use The Hobbit as my central argument for how fanboys really start to hate things that aren't perfect. Oh, I know most of the arguments. I know that Peter Jackson himself wasn't happy with the process of making The Hobbit. Yeah, I haven't watched all of the appendices. I can write myself off too. But The Hobbit, with this one focusing on An Unexpected Journey is still a love letter to Tolkien's Middle Earth. Is it bloated? Sure. Is it a pretty good movie? Almost definitely.
In the wake of the destruction of my film class, I picked up senior English classes. I just found out that I was teaching the college prep seniors. The previous teacher assigned The Hobbit for summer work, so I decided to play some catch up. I had taught that book for years. I taught it to eighth grade, so the focus was a little off. But I also decided to use this opportunity to finally binge The Hobbit movies. Like with The Lord of the Rings, the length of the films becomes kind of an obstacle towards attention. I'm not afraid to comment on the negatives of this movie. I get it. It's a very slow movie with a lot of digital effects. I'm not going to pretend that it is perfect. It's also not a movie for those who want a fast pace. It sounds like I'm talking down to a lot of viewers, but I genuinely get it. It takes forty minutes to get Bilbo out of his house. If I read the book aloud in real time, it would take about the same amount of time to get him out of his house. This isn't a joke. I was listening to the audiobook and it takes just about the same amount of time to get Bilbo Baggins on any adventure. But part of me loves it. I've always been an advocate of "The book is the book, the movie is the movie." I think I still believe that. I look to Watchmen as the movie that abused that level of pacing. But part of what makes it kind of work in An Unexpected Journey is that Tolkien's methodical and slothlike pacing is remarkably charming. I've always loved the stuff in the Shire. Yeah, An Unexpected Journey really abuses its right to spend a lot of time in the Shire, but I adore every moment.
That's what I think a lot of folks are kind of forgetting. As somber as The Lord of the Rings can get at times, the tone of The Hobbit as a novel is much more lighthearted. The worst I can really accuse Jackson of doing is trying to have his cake and eating it too. The book of The Hobbit is a fairly light adventure story full of gorgeous descriptions of Middle Earth. Jackson's in this weird place, director wise. He wants to stay true to the tone of the book, but he's making this movie as a follow-up to one of the greatest trilogies of all time. He has to both capture the lighthearted nature of the book that was made for kids and give the film a grandiose scale. Yeah, I wish he could pick one or the other too, but I don't think the studio would really give him that option. That lightning in a bottle thing twice is super depressing to think about. All of these actors from The Lord of the Rings came back to play and do it again. But the problem with reunions is that they have to understand that it isn't going to be the same thing twice. When I heard that Peter Jackson was going to come back and direct The Hobbit after Guillermo del Toro dropped out (of yet another project), I thought it was a great idea. But Peter Jackson, in that position, is kind of being unfair. Since The Lord of the Rings trilogy is mentally one storyline, therefore, one movie (I'm going to stand by that), adding this prequel gives the entire thing an unfair situation. The problems with sequels / prequels is that people want more of the same while at the same time being different.
This kind of leads me to a criticism of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in general. I know. I'm taking on the Granddaddy of fantasy right now, whom I love. I think we all kind of forgive Tolkien something because we understand the context of it all. I tell people who don't want to read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy to simply read The Hobbit. The Hobbit, despite being a much simpler book between themes and motifs, is just a short version of The Lord of the Rings. Frodo is a little more gung-ho than Bilbo is because of the events of The Hobbit. But basically the story and the beats are the same. The side-quests and the diverging storylines are totally worth reading in The Lord of the Rings, but the main plot is the same. It still talks about the corruption of greed. Both stories are just a long trek to a mountain. Some of the villains are the same. While reading, we really can glean the differences in a slow and paced reading. Having read most of the Third Age of Tolkien, I completely agree that they are different things. But the beats are the same. Putting that into a movie is a daunting task. It has to be miserable for Jackson in that situation. He had years of his life devoted to simply the pre-production of The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit was in pre-production with a different director. There had to be such shortcuts made. Yeah, the best thing about the job had to be the knowledge of how things were going to look like in Middle Earth. But there was no time to do it the slow way.
But An Unexpected Journey gets things mostly right. The characterization of Bilbo Baggins is perfect. I love Martin Freeman. I'm afraid to ever talk to him because I know that he would hate me in a split second. But he's great in everything he does. This is no exception. I really adore Gandalf the Grey. This is the Doctor Who fan inside of me escaping, but it matters that we get to see a lot of Gandalf the Grey. Ian McKellan really played Gandalf the White pretty hard in the other movies. Gandalf the White, and it sounds like I'm nitpicking, has the world on his shoulders. He's almost ethereal. He isn't always this happy character. Gandalf the Grey, however, is almost something that's part of nature. Even when he's angry, he shifts back into this loving and lovely character. I don't know how people don't just latch onto the fact that Ian McKellan is Gandalf the Grey again and being able to simply invest in that character. Similarly impressive is the characterization of the dwarves. The book never really gave me the separate personalities that I needed to really adore the characters enough, shy of Thorin Oakenshield and Balin. That might be slightly unfair because it was my imagination's job to make that work. But the dwarves all have very different voices that I absolutely adore. Okay, I don't love all of them. But still, the effort was made to not make the dwarves sounding boards for one another and that's pretty impressive. And can I get an "Amen" that the songs are maintained in the movie? The songs are actually pretty great. Go out and listen to the audiobooks with the songs. The songs are folksy and pretty lazy. But "Misty Mountains"? That's brilliant. I had that stuck inside my head before I even saw the first movie. There are so many moments that simply adore the text that Tolkien presented.
I'd like to put it this way. New Line Cinema and its parent companies probably had a bunch of pressure on these movies. It feels like there's a corporate overlord in the background constantly ensuring that this film franchise was going to slay as hard as its predecessor. Okay, I get that. But basically, Peter Jackson tried to hide that and play the politics game while he made the best version of The Hobbit that he could. He was fighting suits while simultaneous fighting fanboys of the previous series. While The Hobbit isn't as pretty as The Lord of the Rings with its color palates and whatnot, it is The Hobbit at all times. That kind of brings me into the extended stuff. We knew that these movies had to be epic in scale. So adding the appendices and the stuff from The Silmarilian just makes sense. Yeah, these moments bother me too. But again, think of the corporate guys above. The Hobbit is a very intimate tale. But there needed to be something to make it larger than life. The shadow of The Lord of the Rings movies was cast over this entire series. I'm just glad it wasn't a bunch of weak plot points. It shows that Jackson was going to play ball, but play ball on his terms. If they wanted epic, they had to go for the deep cuts. Okay, yeah, it doesn't always fit. But it fits better than almost anything else that could have been in there. The Hobbit wouldn't have flown as a simple film. I wish it would. I would love The Hobbit as either one or two movies. But New Line probably ensured that it had to be a three movie deal. That's probably why del Toro quit (this time). There was an unholy hand over the directorship of this movie. At the end of the day, we got a movie that mostly really works. I would take a bloated Hobbit trilogy that still very much felt like its source material than nothing and I think that's what people forget. There was no pleasing a bunch of people and I can respect the product that was made in the presence of insane adversity.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.