{March Into Middle-Earth} The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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When The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey came out, I was on a NO-EPIC-FANTASY-AT-ALL kick. I’d been on that kick since overdosing on swords and sorcery in high school so it wasn’t any surprise then that I hated An Unexpected Journey when I saw it in the theater. I rolled my eyes and giggled under my breath as I sat through the nearly three hour film. It was tedious, annoying, and made me mad since I loved the book for what it was (a fairy tale) and not what Peter Jackson made it (a dreaded Epic Fantasy).

It’s been several years since An Unexpected Journey was released, and finally, I’m starting to read and like Epic Fantasy again. With March into Middle-earth, I felt it was time to give this series of films a second chance and, so far, I’m glad that I did.

Bring me your elves, goblins, and hobbits, I say!

The Problem With Prequels

First thing’s first, I had an epiphany while watching An Unexpected Journey. To me, The Hobbit films felt like the betrayal that Episodes I-III must have felt like to Star Wars fans. While I personally love the Star Wars prequels, I think I finally understand why people hate them so much. It’s hard to wait years and years for something and then at the end of all that waiting, to be presented with a product that’s completely incomprehensible and not what you wanted.

The Hobbit films were that let down for me and realizing that fact made me enjoy An Unexpected Journey a lot more.

The first time I saw the film I held onto to my love of the book (and, ahem, film structure) too strongly. Peter Jackson wasn’t trying to adapt The Hobbit with The Hobbit movies. He was making a prequel to The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. I don’t have to be happy with that choice to accept it and move on.

And, by moving on, I can finally watch the films for what they are and enjoy them. I may have enjoyed a strict adaptation of the book better, but here we are.

Another similarity between The Hobbit films and the Star Wars prequels I epiphanized (not a word but just go with it) was that the structure of An Unexpected Journey was very similar to that of the Star Wars prequels. The Star Wars prequels are not good movies, but they work well if you watch them as episodes of a miniseries. The hopping around structure makes more sense if you have that sort of mindset. It may be weird to forcibly watch a film in a way that it wasn’t intended, but it works. I’ll probably watch The Hobbit films in quick succession to keep up the miniseries illusion. That’s one of the benefits of waiting to watch these trilogies until they’re on DVD.

Some Things Stay the Same

Not surprisingly, my favorite parts of An Unexpected Journey were taken right out of the book. The two scenes that made me fall a bit in love with this movie were “Roast Mutton” and “Riddles in the Dark.”

These are actually two on my favorite parts of the book, and I loved the mixture of darkness and humor in these scenes. The “Roast Mutton” bit was particularly hilarious as Bilbo stalled for time as the sun came up. The dwarves insisting they didn’t have worms cracked me up. I liked when the dwarves weren’t being all angsty and sad in general. They’re pretty funny when given the chance.

As for “Riddles in the Dark,” I could practically quote whole passages from that chapter, and besides Bilbo not yelling “Time!” accidentally, the scene was absolutely perfect. I can’t wait to see Bilbo’s interaction with his other main foe, Smaug. I fully expect that scene to be fantastic too–and not only because it’ll pit Martin Freeman against Dragon!Cumberbatch.

The Cast is Perfection

When I first heard about The Hobbit being three films, I was angry. When I heard who was in the cast, I was angrier still because it felt like such a waste to have the perfect Hobbit cast in this series of films. I’ve gotten over that a bit with this rewatch, but I still find it a little weird that the cast of The Hobbit is basically a fancast that I would have come up with myself.

This whole movie is filled with British and Irish actors that I adore–from Richard Armitage to James Nesbitt to Aidan Turner to, well, basically everyone else. The casting of Lee Pace as Thranduil is particularly hilarious/wonderful to me. I can’t wait to see more of him in future films, especially since I assume he’ll be hanging out with his son, Legolas.

It was also great to have so much of original Lord of the Ring cast back. It’s amazing how little most of them had aged–making it entirely plausible that this film is set before the others. And, seriously, I know I’m not the first one to say this but does Elijah Wood even age? Is he secretly Dorian Gray? A vampire? Discuss.

Finally, was there really anyone else who could play Bilbo Baggins other than Martin Freeman? It would take a lot to convince me. He’s got the right amount of grumpiness for the character and he looks exactly like the picture I had of Bilbo in my head–only a bit less plump. I’m so glad Peter Jackson managed to get him for the role. It would have been a let down if someone else had been cast. He was perfect and I can’t wait to see him do more in The Desolation of Smaug.

What is Real? Anything?

The Hobbit is one movie that doesn’t benefit from watching on Bluray. I’m a huge fan of practical effects and shooting on film, but The Hobbit is unapologetically digital and that doesn’t look so great in HD. The film is simply too shiny and fake looking up close on a big TV. It’s distracting to see Wargs running weightlessly over the countryside and the dwarves fighting goblins in impractical ways. I understand that Fantasy films with their unusual creatures and larger than life stories are difficult to do without a heavy reliance on CGI, but I was disappointed that more of an effort wasn’t made to make the film look tactile. I want to go back and watch The Lord of the Rings films now to see the difference. I know more of the goblins and orcs were created from costumes and makeup in the original trilogy. Sometimes technology not being so advanced is a blessing.

One aspect of the effects that I will admit was fantastic was Gollum. Gollum was rendered fantastically–completely with little wrinkles on his face and intricate expressions. Andy Serkis is my CGI hero. Of course, it also helped that since Gollum was one of my favorite things about The Lord of the Rings films I was absolutely tickled to see him again.

In Conclusion

I don’t hate An Unexpected Journey anymore, and truthfully, that’s a bit unexpected in and of itself. While I do still grieve for The Hobbit film that could have been, I enjoyed Part One of this trilogy. I’m not sure these warm and fuzzy feelings will last through The Battle of the Five Armies, but I’m more than willing to see.

First, there comes a dragon.

What’s your favorite film in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings/Hobbit saga?

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3 thoughts on “{March Into Middle-Earth} The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

  1. I haven’t quite reached the point where I can accept the Hobbit films for what they are. I’m still hung up on the pacing, the structure and the narrative twiddling. An Unexpected Journey I was okay with, although I think it’s too long and could have happily done without the Big Orc Boss subplot. Roast Meat and Riddles in the Dark are two of my favourites bits of the book too, and having them on screen was awesome and made me far more forgiving of everything else (also Galadriel at Rivendell).

    But I’m yet to see The Battle of the Five Armies because the second Hobbit annoyed me so much. All the whizzy battle action. I wanted more Beorn and spiders, not endless swooping orc fights that made my eyes hurt. I loved that we got a lady action elf, but I didn’t love the action (or the romantic subtext *yawn* when will it be possible to have major female characters without romance plots?!). There are some lovely quiet moments in the book as things build to the climax, and these got completely overwhelmed.

    …but I should probably give it a second chance and see if it can redeem itself 😉

  2. Loved your analysis of this! The comparison to the Star Wars prequels was genius. It makes so much sense! I keep flip-flopping about the Hobbit movies. More often than not when I watch I’ll enjoy them, but other times I’ll look at it and see how ridiculous it is. There’s a scene in the second one where Kili is hurt. You’ll understand what I mean when you see it, lol. It reminds me of the shirtless Jeff Goldblum of Jurassic Park for some reason. It’s ridiculous. I wonder if anyone has giffed that yet.

  3. I want to like the Hobbit movies, but…even as movies I think they’re clunky and bloated. The pacing is off, there are too many superfluous battle scenes instead of real character development, everything is too big and unbelievable. That being said, the casting really is great. Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis, especially. I also loved Cumberbatch as Smaug. But I think it says something when the best parts of the films are the ones that stay closest to the book. “Riddles in the Dark” was perfection. The dinner scene was also pretty great. The rest of the films? Not as impressive. I wish Jackson had left the writing to Tolkien.

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