Wednesday, August 28, 2013


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)


Director: Peter Jackson
Producer: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Carolynne Cunningham, Zane Weiner
Story/Screenplay: Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh; based on The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
Music: Howard Shore
Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie
Editor: Jabez Olssen
Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitrage, Manu Bennett, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Sylvester McCoy, Ken Scott, James Nesbitt, Elijah Wood, Ian Holm, Barry Humphries, Lee Pace

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), New Line Cinema, WingNut Films

After the success (both critical and commercial) of the masterpiece that was Peter Jackson's epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings, fans wondered whether The Hobbit would be adapted.

But it seemed as if Peter Jackson wasn't going to direct, as New Line Cinema forbade him to do any more films with the company due to a lawsuit (though he did go on to remake King Kong for Universal Studios as well as making many other movies). MGM halted development due to their desire for Jackson's involvement, and also due to financial problems. I can't get into any further technicalities, but readers who desire to do so may refer to Wikipedia's page on The Hobbit film series.

Finally, when the project was started, the initial director was Guillermo del Toro, with Peter Jackson serving as executive producer. However, due to directorial conflict and creative differences, del Toro left direction in 2010, in part due to constant delays, and the job was then handed over to Jackson.

Originally the movie was envisioned as two parts, but now it was changed to a trilogy.

And the first movie in that trilogy came out in 2012: An Unexpected Journey, which took up about one hundred pages of Tolkien's original book. While it did end up becoming one of the top-grossing films of that year, the reviews were mixed. Many held that it was trash, while others thought that it was OK, but didn't hold a candle to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I finally got to see it with my dad, my older brother and younger sister, and some family friends of ours in IMAX (which was not the classical 15-perf 70mm experience commonly identified with IMAX, but rather a digital version, which many call "LIEMAX"). While I enjoyed the movie, I didn't consider the IMAX experience to be immersive, as I have seen actual 70mm IMAX in several places before, such as the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Long Island.

So, what is my opinion of the movie? Is it a masterpiece that critics and LOTR fanboys just don't get? Is it a CGI-stuffed disgrace to cinema? Or it is merely a good, better-than-average movie that is nowhere near the classic Lord of the Rings saga we were already treated to.

I take the third view. While Peter Jackson and his team did a good job on many counts, it did not hold a candle to the Lord of the Rings movies. And the special effects seemed to CGi-ish in certain areas, particularly in the animation of the Goblin King, who looks just like a fake animated creature to me rather than an actual monster.

Anyways, here is the summary for the movie (SPOILER ALERT). The film begins with Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) writing the introduction to There and Back Again for Frodo Baggins (played briefly by Elijah Wood), which deals with story of Thror, his son Thrain and his grandson Thorin (Richard Armitrage; he is later called Oakenshield due to the fact that he uses an oak for a shield). Thror is King of Erebor, which is located at the Lonely Mountain, near the prosperous town of Dale. The dwarves go deeper and deeper into the ground to find riches of magnificence, but the Arkenstone surpasses even the best of treasures that are already in existence, and Thror takes it as a sign of his right to rule. Even the Elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace) pays tribute to Erebor. However, Thror becomes compalcent with all his prosperity and, as Bilbo puts it, his "love of gold had grown too fierce." Thus, he is not alerted to the impending doom that would come upon Dale and Erebor.

During a most peaceful day, when all seems normal and peaceful, the terrible and magnificent dragon Smaug (who will be played by Benedict Cumberbatch in The Desolation of Smaug, which will come to a theater near you this Christmas) approaches and lays waste to Dale. But all this is nothing to him; his eye is fixed on Erebor. The dwarves fight valiantly in an attempt to defend their homeland, but to no avail. Thror attempts to keep the Arkenstone safe but loses it amidst the chaos, and finally the dwarves are driven out and Erebor is lost. While they are leaving, the dwarves call for help from the elves, but unfortunately they don't come to aid the dwarves, causing Thorin to breed a long resentment toward elves. The dwarves are left to work among men.

The film soon cuts to Bilbo, who is back in his hobbit hole, and it shifts sixty years earlier to a much younger Bilbo (played by Martin Freeman), who is visited by Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) and is asked to join on an adventure. Bilbo flatly refuses, but it is no so easy as he thinks. Soon, he is visited by the dwarves, who partake in an "unexpected party." After it is all over, Thorin finally arrives (as he was not there to share in the dinner), and it is then that they decide to take back Erebor and do it quickly, as there have been rumors of goblins and monsters a brewing. At first, Bilbo refuses again, but on the next day, he decides to join Gandalf and the dwarves on the epic quest to reclaim Erebor.

Now that I have laid out the plot summary, without spoiling anything (so far), what would be my further thoughts on the movie, other than my movie that it is mere above-average entertainment that is by no means a masterpiece?

I thought that Jackson and his crew did a very decent job in putting this film together, and it is my no means a terrible movie in the tradition of such schlock as Pearl Harbor, Batman and Robin, The Last Airbender, Pearl Harbor, and the Transformers movies (none of which I have seen but gathered through reading and viewing others' opinions) or anything in the like, as some have said. It is more in the vein of a better-than-average blockbuster that falls short of masterpiece status (not that I wanted it to surpass the Lord of the Rings trilogy).

Martin Freeman does a fine job as Bilbo Baggins, and Richard Armitrage does a decent job as portraying Thorin, which is a more heroic portrayal than in the original novel, where he is portrayed as just an average stereotypical dwarf.

And to their credit, instead of "updating" some characters, some of our old cast does indeed return. These include Hugo Weaving (The Matrix trilogy, V for Vendetta, The Lord of the Rings trilogy) for Elrond, Cate Blanchette (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Robin Hood, Elizabeth, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) for Lady Galadriel, Christopher Lee (The Man with the Golden Gun, The Wicker Man, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King (extended edition), Star Wars Episode II: The Attack of the Clones, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith) for a brief appearance as Saruman the White, and last but not least Ian McKellen (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the X-Men franchise, The Da Vinci Code) for Gandalf and Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Adventures of Tintin) for Gollum.

And the screenwriters did an excellent job in the recreation of the famous "riddles in the dark sequence," which Serkis doing a fine job as Gollum as usual (though his performance in the LOTR trilogy is superior), which provides some comic relief in a movie that is amped up from its lighthearted source.

Now, having given my compliments, what are some of my problems with the movie?

1. Radagast: Apparently Peter Jackson and his team felt that The Hobbit would be incomplete without an extended role for Radagast (who is only mentioned passingly in the book), so they cast Sylvester McCoy (Dracula) as the Brown Wizard. The quality of the portrayal is, let us say kindly, not the best it could be. He seems like some amateurish wizard (who has bird poop in his hair) and a wannabe epic character, but in my opinion he is not epic material, despite the attempt to make it so with Radagast learning of the Necromancer. And some people hate him so much that they consider him to be the Jar-Jar Binks of fantasy movie characters (for those who don't know, Jar-Jar Binks is a character from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace; many people, especially fans of the original Star Wars trilogy, consider him to be one of the worst characters of all time, and this character is one factor in the negative reputation that George Lucas has received). Whether or not this is true, I cannot judge. However, I can judge that if Radagast's role was extended (maybe it didn't need to be), then he could have been improved in some certain ways, such as, not trying to be an epic movie character and instead sticking to lightheartedness.

2. A little too much CGi: I can safely say that the special effects are a step down from the magic of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, mostly because there was some excess in CGi usage in some areas. One example is the goblins. Whereas the orcs in LOTR were for the most part human beings in superb makeup, these goblins have CGi faces. And don't forget the creation of Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett). While he is indeed a frightening and brutal character, I wonder how he would have been assisted with actual makeup rather than being totally CGi. He would probably be as gut-wrenching, if not more so, as the Uruk-hai leader in The Fellowship of the Ring, who needed no animation to give that visceral impact of villainy. And speaking of Azog, he barely received a mention in the original book (the only real focus he has in Tolkien's saga is in one of the appendices in The Return of the King). Now, whether that would be a beneficial aspect to the film, that is debatable. I think his role was OK, but not truly great.

And let us not forget the bloated Goblin King, which is not so much frightening as he is a laughable CG creation from a team that has been resting on its laurels a little too much after the top-notch CGi and practical effects of The Lord of the Rings. His acting is not very good, and he is nowhere near the Balrog from The Fellowship of the Ring.

3. The anti-climactic battle between Thorin and Azog (SPOILER): Now, on to the battle between Thorin and Azog that takes place near the end of the movie. This takes place while the company is running from the goblins and Wargs, and they are forced to resort to climbing trees, which also happen to collapse. Finally, Thorin musters up the courage to fight Azog, his sworn enemy who attempted to wipe out the line of Dúrin, first by beheading King Thror and attempting to kill Thorin. However, he lost his arm in the Battle of Azanulbizar, thus forcing him to use a metal prosthetic arm. And while that battle was indeed well-done, this battle rubbed me as anti-climactic. For example, while Thorin takes up his sword Orcrist and his shield in an attempt to slay Azog once and for all, he is just knocked down by Azog and his Warg, and an orc tries to behead him until Bilbo jumps in, along with the rest of the company. I would have preferred that Thorin at least wounded either Azog or the Warg before he got knocked down.

However, I did like the little addition of Bilbo Baggins's saving Thorin.

Anyways, even though the battle was not in the book, I still think it could have done better.

Now, having laid out my problems and compliments, I will give this movie 3.5 out of 5 stars. And for those who would like to focus on all the differences between the book and the movie, I would recommend this page to you.

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