Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Movie Review: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" Part 2 and three things you might like

I think sometimes how nice it must be for ordinary people. People who can watch television without becoming so fixated on a particular show that they stay up until two in the morning watching every episode they can get their hands on, and then researching it until sunrise on Wikipedia and TVTropes.com when the episodes run out; people who don't find themselves crying on the subway because of the ending of a book they finished a week ago; people who aren't elated or depressed for days because of how much they liked a movie adaptation of a property they enjoyed in the past.

I don't know what it's like not to live so deeply in my imagination, to not feel my breath get short and my blood pressure rise, to not be physically affected by the stories and fantasy worlds created by others. I wonder sometimes why I care so much about these things, why it matters a jot to me or anyone else if DC Comics re-boots their universe, or why I feel the need to write 2000 words on what I thought about "The Hobbit" and then come back to write another 2000 words on the same subject.
I wish I could quit you. Not really. I don't know what I'm saying!
 On the other hand,  it's people like me who end up creating these kinds of things. Peter Jackson didn't spend years of his life and destroy his health (seriously, look at pictures of him at the Oscars ceremony when he won all the awards for "Return of the King," he looked like the Goblin King, it was shocking) making movie adaptations of his favorite books because he wanted the pay day. He did it because he loved them. He's a fanboy, a literal fanatic about Tolkien's creation, and these movies are all good because he cares about things that ordinary people dismiss as trivial, unimportant, or too dorky to think about.

So I don't feel too bad about my obsessions. I'm in good company.

I said in my previous review that everywhere "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" deviated from the source material, either to make the movie more exciting or to make it match up more with LOTR, it didn't succeed. The flip side of that is that everywhere the movie stuck to the book, it came off beautifully. I can't emphasis enough that if you grew up with this book, read it at night with your parents, or play-acted it in the backyard with your friends, your heart is just going to soar when you see about half of this movie.

Again, let's put the big damn SPOILER ALERT here for both the movie and the book.

1) The acting is superb. I'm a big fan of the BBC "Sherlock" television show, so when I saw that Dr. Watson was going to be Bilbo Baggins, I was very pleased. Martin Freeman is perfectly suited for playing humble, somewhat flustered characters that have an underlying toughness and resourcefulness to them, and he shines as Bilbo. I can't say enough good things about him, so I'll leave it at that.

In fact, everyone is wonderfully cast. Jackson changed some fundamental aspects of Thorin Oakenshield's character, and I don't agree with those changes, but I can't argue that Richard Armitage is excellent in the role as it's written. And while most of the dwarves kind of blend together, variety of hats and facial hair notwithstanding, the movie uses that to its advantage by portraying them as a perfectly synchronized eating, singing, fighting machine. There's no pressure to recognize more than three or four of the dwarves on sight; we're encourage to think of them as a single unit because they're stand-ins for an entire displaced dwarf nation.

2) Jackson introduces a thematic element of an entire displaced dwarf nation that wasn't really in the book, but unlike his other additions, this one is both needed and welcomed. I loved the the prologue of the movie showing the dwarves driven out of the Lonely Mountain by the dragon Smaug, because that opens the doors for Bilbo to be motivated by more than just a desire for adventure, as he is in the book. He sticks with the dwarves to help them gain back their home, which is exactly what he longs for pretty much as soon as he leaves the Shire. Adventure is well and good, but compassion and empathy make for much better character interactions, and I'm glad Jackson emphasized that aspect of the story.

3) It's funny! My friend R said that she always liked "The Hobbit" book better than the LOTR books as a child because "The Hobbit" was witty and made her laugh. Tolkien got a lot of comedy mileage by contrasting the dignity and somewhat-faux-heroism of the dwarves with the fussiness and practicality of Bilbo. In some places it seems like the dwarves are characters from the old Scandinavian sagas and Bilbo is a modern Englishman, as though Tolkien is mixing and matching entirely different genres of storytelling and getting humor from their differences.

Although I wouldn't call this movie a comedy, a lot of the humor from the book made it onscreen, mostly thanks to Freeman's Bilbo, who is, again, just a delight. One of the funniest moments for me was when they're all riding through a rainstorm, the dwarves are bitching about the weather, and Bilbo just slouches silently along on his little pony while everything about his posture and his expression screams, "I-hate-it-I-hate-it-I-hate-it." It makes me smile every time I think about it.

Unfortunately, Jackson's sense of humor is a little childish, so there's more snot and belching jokes than I really look for in a movie, me being a grown-ass adult and all. And the contrast between Bilbo and the dwarves, while funny, is more about the one being prim and the others being crude and rowdy. Again, it's a bit juvenile, and kind of misses the point. There isn't really any of that meta-textual humor of Bilbo and the dwarves being characters from different types of stories, probably because these dwarves are heroic and not faux-heroic like the ones in the novel.

I know that I had four things I really didn't like about this movie, and only three things I did like, but on the whole I enjoyed "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" more than I disliked it. I saw it twice, I'd be happy seeing it again if the opportunity comes up, and yes, I'll probably buy the extended edition when it comes out so I can watch the behind-the-scenes specials (and to satisfy my morbid curiosity about how Jackson can bloat this behemoth to an even longer running time than it currently has).

And I get two more Christmas seasons where I can go to the theater and see a Hobbit movie! My holidays are booked solid until 2016, folks!

By the way: Happy New Year and thanks for reading my blog. My radio show starts its spring season on February 5th, and my book reviews will soon be increasing to two per week. The road goes ever on and on...

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