Double Take: ‘The Hobbit’
By Ryan Cady
I’d like to start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” The acting was spot on (Martin Freeman was, without a doubt, the perfect Bilbo Baggins), the special effects were vibrant and the locations as true to Middle Earth as could be. But while the film itself may have been sound, it fails the book in a number of ways that, to a big “Hobbit” nerd like me, may very well be unforgiveable.
First, the tone of the film is very different from the tone of the novel. Lest we forget, “The Hobbit” was written as a children’s adventure novel. The tone of the story is lighthearted and whimsical, with even scenes of war or frightening creatures viewed through the comfy lens of Bilbo’s third-person limited point-of-view. Elves were tricksters, dwarves were bumbling smiths and goblins were cannibalistic bullies at worst.
But keeping in the vein of the “Lord of the Rings” films, this most recent movie, whenever faced with the choice, “Should we go for amusing and adventurous, or dark and dramatic?” always seemed to select the doom and gloom. Especially in terms of the addition of the White Orc, the actual exposition of the Necromancer and the “battle-hardened” nature of Thorin’s dwarves all created a film that any fifth-grader will glumly tell you is far from Tolkien’s vision.
Even examine the format of the movie itself and perform some simple math. “The Hobbit” is the shortest of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth novels, and it’s shorter than any given one of the “LOTR” trilogy. Peter Jackson devoted one film to each “LOTR” book. Admirable, appropriate, exactly what we needed. So why in Gandalf’s name did Jackson think it would be a good idea to make the exact same amount of movies with one-third the content?
“But, Ryan,” you might whine, “Jackson can just fill space with information from ‘Unfinished Tales’ and ‘The Silmarillion’ to make a richer, more dramatic film.”
Unfortunately for “Hobbit” purists among us, dear reader, that is exactly what he does. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” features a great deal of content that was only either barely alluded to in the book, or extrapolated upon with information from other Tolkien works. Gandalf abandons the dwarves with a warning and with dramatic flair in the film; in the original novel, the characters would simply look up and notice that, almost comically, Gandalf was just gone. Or take, for example, Sylvester McCoy’s character, the brown wizard Radagast, who was essentially completely added in to the story. In the book, the druidic friend to animals was only mentioned a few times by name, but never actually appeared. Ironically enough, while a total add-in by the screenwriters, all of the Radagast scenes come closest to capturing that Hobbit-y tone of childlike whimsy.
Again, the film was very enjoyable, and it fits snugly up against the LOTR trilogy; it just wasn’t “The Hobbit.”
By James S. Kim
Normally with book adaptations, there is hardly anything unexpected to expect. In the case of the first movie of what is now a three-part adventure, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” most fans of “The Lord of the Rings” have already been there and back again.
Director Peter Jackson reminds us with his latest venture into Middle Earth, that the journey is his to travel and portray. As he did with the “The Lord of the Rings” films, Jackson adds and takes away from the source material to create his silver screen version of events. With the first part of “The Hobbit” trilogy, Jackson continues to establish his own version of Middle Earth.
Simply put, “The Hobbit” tries too hard in being a prequel. There are several moments that point back (ahead?) to Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Ian Holm reprises his role as the older Bilbo Baggins, and Elijah Wood also makes an appearance as Bilbo’s nephew, Frodo.
Martin Freeman fits the much younger, pre-Ring-of-power Bilbo Baggins. He has the uppity, prissy manner of a hobbit that has spent too much time in a hole in the ground, but at the insistence of Gandalf (Ian McKellen), he eventually embraces his inner love of adventure and accepts the responsibility of wielding a sword.
Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) is the stern and headstrong, yet respectable leader of the dwarf company. All 13 have their own characteristics, but at times it is hard to remember who is who.
One of the more controversial points of discussion has been the high frame rate “The Hobbit” was filmed in. To note, there is a clear difference between 48 frames per second (fps) and the traditional, cinematic 24 fps, and the difference can take away from the experience.
The action sequences are thrilling and spectacular and range from underground caverns, mountains that move and extravagant dwarf cities. Dialogue exchanges still depict the nuances of characters, whether it is Galadriel speaking to Gandalf or Gollum exchanging riddles with Bilbo.
Other than his insistence to stick with 48 fps, Peter Jackson attempts to connect “The Hobbit” to his “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. From returning characters like Elrond, and those who are not even in the book, such as Radagast the Brown, Saruman the White and Galadriel, Jackson puts his own touch in portraying the story.
Jackson does take liberties in adding and removing elements from the book; he did the same for “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Moviegoers, and in particular, fans of the book, may disagree with the changes, but Jackson manages to make it work in at least setting up the second movie, which will undoubtedly have his own tweaks as well.