Peter Jackson’s new film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, did not remain entirely true to J. R. R. Tolkien’s original, but did offer some memorable moments
WARNING: Contains Spoilers
Much excitement has surrounded the long-awaited release of the film adaptation of the prequel to The Lord of the Rings. Let me firstly say that it was very enjoyable. As expected, the landscapes and cinematography were breathtaking. Although the CGI came across as slightly unconvincing in some scenes, in others, it was used to great effect. The scenes which depict the party’s journey under the mountain and their run-in with the Goblin King were particularly impressive. In fact, along with Bilbo and Gollum’s riddles in the dark, they were arguably the best scenes of the film.
As for the casting, I was initially disappointed when I found out that Martin Freeman would be cast as Bilbo, as I had always envisaged the character as less consciously comical and more middle-aged. However, Freeman does put in a great performance, as does the rest of the cast. The dwarves were portrayed, on the whole, accurately. I was especially amused to see a satisfyingly rotund Bombur, and the jokes regarding his healthy appetite provided good comic relief from the more serious aspects of the film.
The inclusion of the original dwarves’ songs from the book was a great idea and the way in which they were depicted was spot-on. References to The Lord of the Rings ensured that those who were film fans, rather than Tolkien fans, could easily relate the two, and the evolution of Gandalf from the more humble grey wizard to the powerful white wizard that he becomes in the trilogy came across in the movie.
However, at times, the obvious signposting was simply unnecessary. For example, the inclusion of a conversation between Saruman, Galadriel, Elrond and Gandalf in Rivendell, regarding the re-appearance of the Witch-King (Sauron) in the Green Wood is an unconvincing and needless detail. If these additions had been left out in favour of spending time on other more important details of the story, the film would have been better for it. For instance, in the book, when Bilbo is waylaid with his unexpected guests, despite his grumblings he spends their stay running to and fro from the parlour fetching them food and trying to make his home more welcoming to them. In the film, however, the dwarves themselves ransack the pantry, while Bilbo does nothing but complain. Although it seems a minor detail, the fact that it is Bilbo who gives food to the dwarves in the book, rather than the guests helping themselves, is important in revealing the kindly nature of the hobbit and the culture of hospitality among the Halflings.
In a narrative where the characteristics attributed to different races plays a major part, the exclusion of this from the film was a major oversight. While subtle details like this are ignored, the role of Bilbo as the everyman hero is overdone, often at the expense of the integrity of other characters. One such moment that stuck in my mind was when the party is surrounded by wolves and goblins, and Thorin (the king of the dwarves), upon seeing the goblin whom his father was slain by, attacks him, only to be knocked down to the ground. At this point it is Bilbo who, charging at the goblins with his sword, single-handedly saves Thorin’s life. Not only is this act of courage incompatible with the hobbit’s character at this point of the adventure (in the book it is Bilbo’s ingenuity and stealth that get him through most scrapes and his courage, in fact, develops much later in the story), but it also serves to diminish the status of Thorin, one of the greatest dwarf warriors in Middle Earth. I also found the portrayal of Radagast, like that of Gimli in The Lord of the Rings, made the wizard into a caricature, rather than paying attention to the subtleties of the character.
This being said, the film was still highly entertaining and worth the watch. Seeing it on the IMAX screen was extra special and made the landscapes appear even more impressive. As a film in itself, overall, The Hobbit does deliver. However, for Tolkien fans, the sacrificing of the subtlety that is so integral to the book, in exchange for a more typical Hollywood formula, although not unexpected, will prove slightly disappointing.
Image from: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Film/Pix/pictures/2012/11/30/1354275728957/The-Hobbit-An-Unexpected--010.jpg
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