I spent a rainy afternoon with all the blinds drawn watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on blu-ray. I’d seen it in the theater when it first came out, but definitely wanted to see it again. On its release it received generally favorable reviews, pulling a so-so 65% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Not great, but certainly not terrible. As for me, I have mixed feelings.
Let me surrender a short paragraph here just to make quite clear how huge an impact Tolkien’s great works have had on me, as a daydreamer, a reader, and a creative person. As I’ve gotten older and more “educated” in what makes good fiction, I can see the weaknesses in his work, certainly, but that doesn’t make me love it any less. It feels like Middle Earth has been a part of me forever. It is bedrock for the kinds of stories I like to hear and tell, the music I like, and has even played an enormous role in my becoming an avid lover of wilderness and the outdoors.
I loved everything about the original Lord of the Rings trilogy that Peter Jackson did. The Fellowship of the Ring is easily my favorite, because at that time every scene, every image, every line of dialogue was new. It was the greatest, most impossible movie I ever dared to imagine could be made, and the man freakin’ pulled it off. This original teaser trailer still gives me chills, if only because I remember how blown away I was the first time I saw it. I was literally in tears, especially the last scene as each character moves across the camera. These were characters I’d grown up with, and they were each immediately familiar, instantly recognizable.
Remember how long ago this was: the internet was not nearly as ubiquitous as it is now. Things could still be fresh in the theater when viewed for the first time. It was a huge, huge deal, and the result was truly groundbreaking and epic.
And that is probably the problem with The Hobbit. It isn’t new anymore. Jackson has set the bar for these films unreachably high. Even matching those movies will be a near impossible task.
I’m fine with the narrative liberties Jackson took with the original trilogy. Generally I think he improved it as a movie experience. When it comes to movies based on books or comics, I’m pretty good at keeping the films and their literary sources separate, succeeding or failing based on their own merits. So I’m cool with expanding the story of The Hobbit to stretch one short little book into multiple movies. There is enough behind the scenes stuff to fill it out, I believe, and I’m eager to see where he goes with it. Certainly we’ll see Gollum trying to track that nasty Bagginses, and how that ties to the overall story of the One Ring. We’ll see Gandalf when he is away from Bilbo and Thorin’s company of dwarves, and the perils he faces. What else, I don’t know, but I expect it to be cool.
If this first installment is any indication, though, three movies may be stretching it. There were parts in this movie that could easily have been left out. The thing with the storm giants went on too long and didn’t serve the story. The long chase/escape from the goblins seemed a bit too much like the escape from Moria in Fellowship. If I could carve the movie up like a playlist, I bet I could bring it in around 90 minutes and have a far more enjoyable flick. I’d still have some of the backstory of the dwarves and their battles, and I loved the opening sequences dealing with the Lonely Mountain and the town of Dale. And Smaug . . . man, I can’t wait to see Smaug in all his glory!
Ultimately I’d say there remains much to love about this movie, much more to look forward to, and despite some misgivings I’m not dismayed. I didn’t expect to love it like I did Fellowship. I just wanted to like it, and not feel betrayed by the filmmakers. Peter Jackson delivered what I was hoping for.
So he and I, we’re still cool.