The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

January 14, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; A Journey Worth Taking?

Roger Thomas
The Stanly News & Press

Monday, January, 14, 2013 — First and foremost, I am a big fan of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. I wanted the “Fellowship of the Ring” to win Best Picture in 2001 (which it did not). I listed “The Two Towers” as the fourth best film of 2002 when I compiled my Top Ten List. And I thought “Return of the King,” which was not as strong as “Fellowship,” deserved all the praise the Academy gave it (11 Oscars tying the record of “Ben Hur” and “Titanic”) and was the best film of 2003. So, I have admired and respected each of Jackson’s previous sojourns to Middle Earth.

That being said, I like “The Hobbit.” In fact, I have now seen it twice, once alone and once with my children, and I actually liked it more the second time. However, I do not feel that it is equal to Jackson’s previous trilogy. In fact, as I have begun pondering my Top Ten List for 2012 (which hopefully will appear in the SNAP soon) I do not believe “The Hobbit” will make the cut. It is a good film but not a great one.

Here is what I like about “Hobbit.” First, the production is once again inspired and nearly perfect. The art direction and cinematography are sights to behold. Bilbo’s house, of which we see much more in this film than in previous ones, is a set worthy of a Oscar. And the beautiful New Zealand landscapes are an advertisement for tourists. I want to walk where the dwarves and hobbit run. I am especially partial to the real natural shots as opposed to those that are clearly CGI or constructed sets.

And once again Jackson has filled Middle Earth with great costumes, make-up and visual effects. It is fun to see Gollum on screen again. The musical themes, though all are familiar from previous films, continue to set the right tones and moods. There is a new song, “Over The Misty Mountains Cold,” and it is very likely to get an Oscar nomination and it may win. (“Return of the King” won Best Song becoming the fourth Best Picture in history to also win Song. “Going My Way,” “Gigi,” and “Titanic” were the other three. Since King’s win, “Slumdog Millionaire” also won song so now there are five.) “Hobbit” has a much greater chance of winning Song than Picture.  

So with these positive traits, what is wrong with “The Hobbit?” First, this story seems much lighter than the one of “Lord of the Rings.” The reason for this is simple. Tolkien’s source material is the same way. “The Hobbit” is a fun fairy tale. “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is an epic. Bilbo helping the dwarves reclaim their home is a noble quest, but we know that all Middle Earth is not at risk. After all, it survives 60 more years for the events of the Rings trilogy to occur. Besides, no one in the film even suggests that Middle Earth is at risk. Gandalf refers to the whole thing as an adventure. And that is the tone and weight of the film. Yes, characters are put at risk, but there are no deaths. “Fellowship” had two grand and dramatic deaths (albeit one character returns from the dead) that gave the story a certain gravitas.

A second weakness also harkens back to Tolkien’s original material. There are many wonderful quotable lines in the “Rings” trilogy and Jackson was wise to include many of these in his films. My personal favorite is Gandalf’s response to Frodo saying, “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” The old wizard replies, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” Words for all to live by. There is nothing in “Hobbit” that comes close to those powerful words.

Third, I do not believe that the characters are allowed to develop in this film. I may be biased after many viewings of the first trilogy. And I will admit, during my second viewing I began to distinguish the dwarves one from another. But the members of the “Fellowship” seemed far more defined by the end of the first film than these characters are before the end credits roll.

But with all this criticism, I am still optimistic. I will anxiously await the next film and hope it will strengthen the first. And I conclude with this thought. I found the last five minutes of this first chapter, the verbal exchange between a dwarf and a hobbit and all that follows it including the final shot, to be the best moments of the film. So, there is a good chance that greater things are yet to come for “The Hobbit.”