Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Watch This Movie: The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey

"There and back again." When we were last in Middle Earth, the Eye of the Shadow was destroyed and Sauron's power broken forever. In an epic climax that involved Eagles, Orcs, Trolls, Elves, Humans, Dwarves, Gigantic Elephants, Screeching Dragons, Undead Hordes, Cursed Kings.... Alright, let me start over. When J. R. R. Tolkien closed the book on his massive trilogy, he did so by putting his foot on the neck of the genre of High Fantasy, declared himself lord over its tropes for the rest of eternity, and departed to the Grey Shores of the West. Every movie since then has been playing catch up, not to mention every videogame. Next time you're playing World of Warcraft, just remember that those Orcs you're fighting have their roots in a century old book that has only been outsold by the Bible.
Tolkien Lives!
But we're concerned with the movies here. Well, Peter Jackson is just covering ground written by Tolkien, and when he wrapped up his Lord of the Rings films, rumors immediately began to swirl about doing a Hobbit movie. The films were massively successful, and most agreed that they'd transferred the general spirit of the films. Sure, there were some criticisms. Where's Tom Bombadill? Why so little singing? Why the love story between Steven Tyler's daughter and that guy from G.I. Jane? And why did it all end in a church?
No seriously, Jackson did the best he could with a sprawling epic that established all the tropes of an entire genre, and people wanted to nitpick about why there wasn't enough singing. Well guess what, this time, he leaves in plenty of singing, and now people are saying the movie is too long. Probably why he took the singing out of the Lord of the Rings films in the first place, guys. Just saying. At any rate, there's more of the 'spirit' of the films. Singing, a generally more carefree attitude. It's important to remember the Hobbit was written first and tended to be more of a fairy tale, while the Lord of the Rings was attempting to establish an entire new lore and mythology. The Hobbit comes fast paced, with events and creatures acting in ways that don't entirely align with their darker portrayals in the Lord of the Rings. Trolls come across with humor and joy, as opposed to raging murder machines that they were in the Lord of the Rings. Everything has a lighter touch.
Except this guy. He's still creepy.
Look, let me put your mind at ease. The film is wonderful, and has a faster pace than The Fellowship of the Ring. The first thirty minutes essentially set up the film, and takes place just before the party that starts of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It then jumps back sixty years before to the events of the Hobbit, the meeting of Gandalf and Bilbo, and the events that lead to a confrontation with the Fire Drake, Smaug. Visually, there's tons going on. The cinematography is excellent, as always, and several times my jaw dropped as I saw the vistas and hills that filled Middle Earth.

The Road Goes Ever On.
The music is excellent. Borrowing from the original Lord of the Rings, it also adds several new themes, motifs and one excellent song that defines the quest of the Dwarves to reclaim their homeland, "Misty Mountains" and its variation, "Song of the Lonely Mountain". In the days leading up to the film, and on the day of the movie, I was whistling and singing this song incessantly. Without having even seen the film yet. It will resonate in your heart. It's moving, it expresses their sorrow at the loss of their home, and the hope they have to see it again.
There is joy in this film, but also great sorrow.
 The biggest complaints have to deal with length. Yes, the movie runs almost three hours. Guess what, you're out at the movies to enjoy yourself. So take your time, soak it in. Jackson introduces elements and changes the way certain things play out, integrating elements from the lore of the Silmarillion as well as general Hobbit background stuff that didn't play out in the book itself. For instance, I don't remember Radagast the Brown playing a significant role in the book, but Jackson introduces him into the film. I know the same people who complained that Tom Bombadill was left out of the movie are going to complain about putting in Radagast, but guess what? He compliments the nature of the movie. It's light hearted throughout the first half, and every half hour the stakes are raised higher and higher. The nature of the Dwarves change, Bilbo changes, they meet the challenges, they grow stronger. We see Gandalf as a wise wizard exhibiting much more power than we did in Lord of the Rings, but also confused by the darkness filling his era and navigating the politics of powerful individuals such as Saruman and Galadriel. At one point this movie borders on becoming the Avengers of fantasy, as so many high powered sorcerers, elves and dwarves are collected into one place that you wonder if they couldn't bring down Sauron just by uniting.
Seriously, the world's ending this Friday. Go watch it before it does. You won't regret making this the last movie you ever see.