Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Hobbit

It may surprise you to note that, even though I was once quite active in the UNM Hobbit Society, I have never actually read The Hobbit.  I have read The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, but somehow never got The Hobbit.  Therefore I had no bubble to be burst when this film came out; my expectations were not particularly high because I did think it a bit absurd to stretch a comparatively short book into three long films.  However, I do have to say I found The Hobbit to be a lot of fun. 

I saw it in 3D, which is not an experience I’d like to repeat.  I also did not really like the excessive frames-per-second technique, which to me looked as if someone had filmed The Hobbit on an iPhone and we were watching it on YouTube.  Needless to say, I’m no expert, but it doesn’t seem like this kind of effect would be the right one for this kind of film.  I appreciate that perhaps a sense of intimacy was the intended goal, but the result feels very strange to me.

Despite this—and because I got used to it after awhile—I really did enjoy The Hobbit.  Frankly, Martin Freeman seems born to play Bilbo, and while I haven’t yet finished the book, I’ve read enough to feel this with certainty.  The pacing seemed a bit . . . odd.  It was enough of an adventure that until the last half an hour or so, I wasn’t bothered by the film’s excessive length.  The whole dishwashing musical scene struck me at the time as a bit too extended, but overall the length did not bother me greatly.

I was not expecting the cameo from Ian Holm or Elijah Wood, and therefore these were pleasant surprises.  I do believe Fellowship of the Ring is my favorite of The Lord of the Rings  films because to me it has always felt whole and self-contained, even if the ending does feel a bit weirdly truncated.  Some of that feeling of wholeness and containedness accompanied, I thought, the cameos by Frodo and old Bilbo, and there was a bittersweet nostalgia that reminded me why I went to the midnight showing of Return of the King in the first place—because I had grown to love all this and was loathe to leave it. 

The scale of the backstory which, having now read the first few chapters of The Hobbit,  I understand is completely added in, is surprisingly large.  My friend Aya has said that it seems like it is no longer Bilbo’s story, and to an extent, that’s right.  It certainly seems at some points it’s Gandalf’s, and at others, surely it’s Thorin’s.  The film (and promotional material) seem to be stressing that Thorin has been personally wronged by Smaug and The Hobbit seems like his quest.  Though not as tall as Aragorn, this Thorin seems to be sharing a lot of his heroic traits.  And I find I don’t mind a jot, given Thorin is the most engaging of the dwarves (Tolkien would have had it dwarfs).  And of course, if anyone can make a hot dwarf it’s Richard Armitage.  0:-)

An extended and largely surprising (to me) scene at Rivendell of a council of sorts between Gandalf, Saruman, Elrond, and Galadriel drew the parallels to World War II, with Saruman arguing for isolationism while Gandalf stubbornly argued to intervene in Poland (or something).  Sadly, as in much of Tolkien’s work, there was a distinct lack of a female presence; surely that’s one reason Galadriel was shoehorned in.  There were certainly some female dwarves and hobbits present, but I have not yet gotten a sense of what a dwarf princess or queen would be like.  Ultimately, one assumes, Thorin will have to choose a consort in order for his lineage to continue; surely Gloin will have to find a wife in order that Gimli can be born?  Of course, Sylvester McCoy as Radagast the Brown was a scene-stealer.  He could have easily gone through more screen time and no one would be worse off. 

In terms of action sequences, The Hobbit did not let anybody down (and presumably that’s why it’s still grossing loads at the box office).  The final sequence with orcs, burning pine cones, Wargs and the Eagles was quite breathtaking and nail-biting (and, you guessed it, rather extended from the version in the book).  Bilbo’s long chase scenes within the mountain away from odious goblins and Gollum were equally action-packed.  And those trolls—what’s with Tolkien and class, anyway?

I enjoyed the music very much; tonally, it showed it was linking up with Lord of the Rings, and the singing—which is integral to Lord of the Rings but sits better within the more childlike Hobbit—fit in very well.

I definitely would have seen the film a second time if I’d had the chance, and look forward to seeing it again, either in the theatre or on DVD.

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