Lavender Took (lavendertook) wrote,
Lavender Took

Bilbo Warrior Hobbit: A Review of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." Part 1.

I saw The Hobbit for my third viewing on Saturday morning. It's really grown on me each time and now I give it two thumbs up, with a few reservations. It is a lot of fun and, mostly, very beautiful. I attribute my initial lukewarm reaction to being cranky from an earlier headache and bad traffic, further exacerbated by the 3D straining of my eyes, which made the lengthiness a bigger flaw than it normally would have been for me. I'll talk about the viewing technology issues in the second part of this review.

Plus I had over-spoiled myself for the lengthy exposition in Bag End by watching every production video and trailer addition online. It had the odd effect of making the exposition seem overly slow as I hunted for new material while watching the film for the first time, and found that I had seen all the highlights of those segments. I do think the length of exposition time in Bag End is probably a flaw for many viewers, but for me, normally, a whole chatty movie could be shot in Bag End and I would be perfectly happy, so it was an odd effect for my first viewing. On the second and third viewing, I've enjoyed every minute of it. So I take responsibility for over-spoiling myself and now know to resist doing so for the next installment.

Thirdly, I had a a little bit of canon shock to deal with--my term for the resistant 5 year old reader in myself who cries, "But that's not how the story goes!" and I have that part of me to deal with for the first viewing of any adaptation of a known story. It isn't always set off, especially if it's a change or addition to the version/canon that particularly appeals to my tastes and values. It was set off in only a couple of places, and one I reconciled and changed my mind on upon second viewing. The other involves a problem for me in the kind of story this film is telling that is a separate issue from any adaptation issues and I'll get to that later.

Lastly, on subsequent viewings, knowing what's coming has allowed me to contain the visceral effect of parts I don't like while basking in the parts I love. For instance, I found yesterday that the length issue can be remedied by taking a bathroom break when the the party first falls into Goblin Town, as long as you return before the Riddle scene. I think an earlier break, right after Radagast takes off on the chase, would also be beneficial, as long as you make it back for the entry into Rivendell. I have a big issue with the ending of the film, that you may have picked up on from my post's title, but I do love it now overall.


So onto the prologue: I loved it. It was beautiful and exciting and told us what Erebor was so we could make sense of it as the quest's destination, and it established historical depth to the story. Dale and Erebor were beautiful--yay Lee and Howe! I loved seeing Dwarf women working the markets in their beautiful Italian Renaissance gowns, and zig-zag beard plates as a royal fashion statement. I liked the teasing views of the dragon. I liked Thranduil all "I'm on a moose reindeer elk thingie." And I like how they set up the conflict between Thorin and Thranduil by Bilbo-narrator telling us that Thranduil didn't want to risk his people, but letting us see for ourselves, without telling us, that Smaug was after the Dwarves long established and hard worked home and property, not their lives; most of the Dwarves shown here escaped with their lives. The issue of sacrifice and what is worth fighting for here is complicated, yo. Tolkien's text is a much more complicated story by the end than it is in the beginning, and the film brought some of that complication to the outset. So that was really brilliant.


I loved every glimpse of Bag End and the Shire, and loved seeing Old Bilbo again. I loved seeing Frodo again and his playful ribbing of Bilbo and how he now looks so much more like Bingo my head canon Frodo than his younger self in the LotR films. I love Old Bilbo's playful meta nod to the continuity problems, when looking at young Bilbo's pic and saying he was a different hobbit then. ( I already talked about my personal solution to the continuity problems for Frodo and Bilbo here.) I loved the canon word play between Gandalf and Bilbo and just how much of it was included. I have to agree with everyone that Freeman's performance is never wanting--he brings so much to every scene he's in and is the perfect Bilbo, with a resemblance to each of the Four Travelers of film LotR, but especially Pippin to emphasize his Tookishness--I'm betting that went into the wig choice. And he and Sir Ian play off each other seamlessly. I love Bilbo's rib at Gandalf not being a great wizard when they are off riding--a nice reposte to all of Gandalf's play at his expense.


I'm not totally reconciled that some Dwarves have prostheses and some don't, though I understand the need for the eye candy factor--compulsory normative in its play to appearance standards, and a bit transgressive in it's catering to the heterosexualized female gaze, but I'm a lesbian-leaning pansexual, so ya'll have at it! (-; That they, and Thorin especially, look like Klingon warriors will never stop being funny. I'm wondering if one of the tattooed designs on Dwalin's head will turn out to be a drawing of the Hidden Door--just remember I called it.:-P The Chip the Plates scene was wonderfully choreographed, and the Misty Mountain song is gorgeous, and its ending abruptly at Bilbo's waking had a very magical dream-like effect.

I love that the film imbues the quest with the greater purpose of the Dwarves being in diaspora and needing to regain their homeland, instead of the treasure hunt it's primarily presented as in the book. The lost homeland theme is a thread in Tolkien's text, but not a prominent one in the beginning, if I'm remembering aright, so it was a brilliant move for Boyens/Walsh/Jackson to pick it out and foreground it. I didn't care for the book when I picked it up when I was a tween and didn't finish it, and one of the reasons was that a treasure hunt just didn't have the moral purpose I was looking for and found when I picked up LotR years later and was enthralled. The other reason I didn't take to The Hobbit was that I hated the intrusive narrator guy because he interfered with my full immersion in the text and he winked to the adults over my head, just like Tolkien himself said was a flaw in tales for kids. After I read LotR in my mid-teens, I went back, reread, and finished TH, and I appreciated it as part of Tolkien's Legendarium, but I didn't love it until I came back to it again in my late 30's. I love the intrusive narrator guy now because he shares the voice Tolkien uses in his letters. I love the book now because the story goes some complicated places I didn't appreciate when younger--it's more of an intellectual love than the emotional love I have for LotR. But Tolkien's text doesn't start in those complicated places, and I like that the film is adding in those ingredients at the outset. It starts in the prologue's conflict between Thranduil and Thorin, and continues when Balin suggests that the Dwarves do have good lives in the Blue Mountains, as he counters Thorin's valuing of filial duty mixed with this group of Dwarves perception of themselves as homeless. Lots more engaging and worthy of sympathy than a treasure hunt.


. . . was a bit hokey. And I like to think it was meant to be. I like to think we are being clued to question Thorin's Great ManPain. Although Balin is ostensibly painting Thorin in this flashback as someone meant to be the rightful king, like Aragorn, the story structure and cinematography here hearken back to film FotR's presentation of Isildur in its prologue. And Isildur is The Bad Example of "Men wanting above all else power." Thorin here has none of the high purpose of Aragorn and none of the humility. And film LotR betters book Aragorn's humility by giving him a fear of being a power-mongering arrogant machismo-laden jerk like his forefathers and the need to resist becoming like them. It's about resisting privilege and being a decent person, and it's why I adore film Aragorn more than book Aragorn. Whereas here in this film, as a leader, Thorin is portrayed as wanting to fulfill his father's dreams, not question them. This film also has Thorin echo Denethor's demands of loyalty when he talks in Bag End about the Dwarves he is leading. As he was with Thranduil, he is portrayed as wanting other people to lay down their lives for him and his goals. He's grateful for it when they do, but well, I'm grateful when people are nice to me or show up when they say they will. The bar he sets for others to meet is pretty damn high, as a sign of this character's arrogance the film has retained from the book. So I like to think the hokiness in this scene is deliberate and good clue laden storytelling. Or I may be giving the writers an unearned break, such are the vagaries of reader/viewer response. (-:

And let me say here,Voldemort's Azog's CGI is kind of subpar and I still think the wargs are stupid looking and should be made to look more like real wolves with longer jaws. The only good excuse I can think of for making the wargs look like this is fear that making them look more like real wolves might encourage more jerky people to hunt wolves, and who wants to encourage former Alaskan governors? I'm wondering if they made him the "pale orc" because they listened to the critiques of the LotR films' racism and decided they needed to do "something" and this is what they came up with. The problem is, though, that if Azog is "THE" pale orc, then it implies that orcs are usually dark skinned, and well, nice try, but FAIL. And it does nothing about the casting of more people of color in good guy roles, but "OMG that wouldn't be realistic and this is fantasy, and that Tolkien said hobbits are brown is beside the point; stop being a canon purist!" So same old, same old. In any event, however, this film could have benefited from less time spent with Voldemort Azog and his wargies over all.


I had canon shock with this scene the first time I saw it because I liked the throwing voices Gandalf did in the book and didn't understand why it wasn't used, as it seemed filmable to me. I got over that the second viewing. But what increased my resistance to the scene then, and still lingers, was the gross-out move of Bilbo being covered in snot. I DID NOT NEED TO SEE THAT!!! That thoroughly ruined my enjoyment of the scene. Yes, I can see how the idea that Bilbo left the house without a hanky and now he IS a hanky can be amusing, and totally hilarious over a couple of beers, but where was the adult editor to tell PJ that only 8 year olds would enjoy seeing this in graphic 3D detail, and wasn't he gearing this to adults? I know the WETA folks are no help because they're all, "well no one's done 3D snot before--how shall we present this--oh let's make it iridescent [yes they did!] , and let's try . . . " GEEZ. And it wasn't helped that Freeman appropriately projected a look of 5 LIFETIMES OF THERAPY WILL NOT BE ENOUGH!! and I could TOTALLY EMPATHIZE with his horror. I mean, PJ knows we are here to see the beauty of Lee and Howe and New Zealand and hear the beauty of Shore and see the pretty actors and pay ridiculous money to see it in HFR 3D IMAX, damn you! I feel like insult was meant. Yeah, I was offended. And see, it's not bodily humor that's the problem. I enjoyed when Bilbo made a funny face when he was sitting by smelly troll butt, because that was accomplished with ACTING, not REALISTIC 3D EFFECTS OF GROSSNESS! Sooo offended, PJ, by what I CANNOT UNSEE. I want an apology, dammit. *breathes*

However, now that I've gotten that out of my system, if you avert your eyes for a few seconds after the troll grabs for Bilbo and try to ignore how snot wet he is afterward *sigh*, it's a really wonderful segment. Yeah, it is. Closing my eyes for several seconds really did help this last viewing. Kili and Fili pushing Bilbo to action like little rats is funny, but they are exonerated by their loyal bravery when they come through for him. The troll voices, done by some of the Dwarf actors, were hilarious, and the CGI is excellent. The Monty Pythonish "parasites as big as my arm!" play of the Dwarves is lots of fun, and Gandalf's splitting of the rock the perfect effect. I like Gandalf's play growl at the statued trolls and his defense of Bilbo to Thorin. I had some initial quibbles with pushing up Bilbo's competency arc, as it gives him less of a growth arc than he has in the book if he's starting out from here, but it's obvious they wanted to push up his competency arc, and Bilbo showing added cleverness is satisfying (maybe he found the cleverness and competency that Frodo misplaced in his films? *snerk*), so I'm good with it now--I'll say more about this below. So excepting for the graphic grossness, and it is a big excepting for me, this was a great segment, with smooth tone shifts between silly lightness and danger.


But the tone shifts are not always smooth and it's a problem in places in this film, most especially with Radagast. I wanted to love what they would do with Radagast, and mostly I do. I love Rhosgobel, the chaotic fairy house. And I know the hedgehog was too twee for some people, but I loved seeing Radagast competently taking care of the charges he is drawn to, and I loved all the animals, and even Sebastian's little, "I'm fine." Just because Disney did it, doesn't mean it's Disney (TM).:-P I loved Radagast's pride in his Rhosgobel rabbits and his badassness in luring and out-riding the warg riders. The spiders were very creepy, as was the moving statue wraith in Dol Guldur (luuuv how they accent the name) and the view of the Necromancer. And I loved seeing Radagast defend himself against the wraith. But the stick insect in his mouth and the cross-eyed pot smoking is 8 year old humor again and completely jarring in light of the gravity of what he is reporting. Tone Shift Fail!! Oddness can be interesting and does not need to manifest as buffoonery that is a disservice to the character portrayal. I liked the nest on his head, but the bird poop? NO. Yes, bird poop is a realistic touch to having a bird nest on your head. Buuuuuuut there's nothing realistic about having a bird nest on your head--it's MAGICAL, so it's WASTED REALISM. This is another sad, sad, sorry case of Evil WETA Geniuses running amok again at PJ's juvenile prompting because they can't help their eager crafty selves, but PJ could have hired a good editor. (Yes, editors ARE very important people, says a long time unemployed editor.)


Already gorgeous in LotR, and there's.just.more.gorgeousness!!!! Less sepia--because it's not the twilight of the Elves and autumn and all! Yay brighter colors and more cliffs and waterfalls! I loved seeing Lindir the Elf Formerly Known as Figwit and the appropriateness of the name to his musician actor. And it was such a surprising joy to see a cheery Elrond and realize that his reaction to Pippin and Merry in FotR was his default mode until Sauron's rise made him cranky. Bad Sauron! And yeah, there's satisfied canon happiness with this portrayal of him as the Elf Host with the Mostses. I loved the musicians and another new musical theme to go with them. I would have enjoyed the letter opener line much more if I hadn't been spoiled for it, but that was a good scene.

While I liked the council scene, I hated, hated, hated the courtly greeting play between Galadriel and Gandalf. It's not that I'm against slashing them, but that's not the way I want them slashed. I want to see them greeting warmly like equals, as Gandalf and Elrond did, not obsequious and wowed pedestalling by Gandalf. Yes, she's been alive ages before he was embodied, but he is still a higher order of being, so it should kind of equal out. So this interchange jarred badly for me on first viewing, but it does pass quickly, and after that they are very collegially engaged as equals who admire and respect each other, thank goodness. I loved the looks they exchange when Galadriel remarks on Gandalf's tricksiness: Galadriel's wryface, "You scamp! I am sooo amused!" and Gandalf's mugging "Yes, I am. But I'm a cute scamp." Now that's a sexy exchange. And I like the speeches they give to Gandalf when they are talking alone. But I wish they ended their interaction in a warm hand grasp instead of Gandalf being dismayed by the lady slipping away--"Oh noez! where'd pretty lady goooooo?" When there's only one woman in this film, it's a shame to frame her with compulsory heterosexualizing mystification and does not add to her magical power. Yes, she's all Mary Mother of God and the Fairy Queen, and needs to be portrayed as Grace personified, but it's drafty on that pedestal. At least being an Elf means never having to wear high heels . . .

As far as the White Council not yet knowing at this late date that the Witch King of Angmar, and presumably the other 8 human kings, were made undead by their rings of power, this is a big departure from Tolkien's canon, and I'm good with it, even if it makes Glorfindel fans cry, "Erased Agaaain? Waaaaa!" It works for how PJ, Walsh, and Boyens are emphasizing the function of The Hobbit films as prequel to their LotR, instead of trying to recreate Tolkien's whole Legendarium, and there would probably be problems with copyrights anyway if they tried to incorporate more that is covered in TS and the HoME. The council scene was probably over long, except I was perfectly happy to take in the beautiful Rivendell sunrise for as long as it took. Hence, it may be a prime bathroom break spot for some viewers, but not for me.



The Last Homely House.

Where the first disc is removed and the second disc is inserted in Part 2 of this review here on DW and here on LJ.

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Tags: fandom, lotr, the hobbit, tolkien
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