The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Ken Stott, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Graham McTavish, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O'Gorman, Aidan Hunter
(New Line Cinema; US theatrical: 14 Dec 2012 (General release); UK theatrical: 13 Dec 2012 (General release); 2012)
More than a decade ago, my grandma took me and my two brothers to the first showing of a little movie called The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, as a sixteen year old I found myself completely enamoured by a world I’d only known from the Rankin/Bass animated specials I’d watched growing up. Once the movie reached its wondrous finale, all I knew was that the next installment couldn’t come soon enough. I came out of the theater truly elated, wondering how it was possible for a movie about wizards and hairy humanoids to make me feel like a child.
Like this, Peter Jackson’s thrilling film series captured my imagination for three consecutive years. Time during which I finally listened to an advice my father had been giving me since I was eight and decided to read The Hobbit. As it tends to happen with everyone who reads Tolkien’s novels (I devoured every book he wrote about Middle Earth) I became strangely protective of its characters, like an unofficial park ranger trying to guard an imaginary reserve.
Once Jackson’s movies reached their Oscar-showered conclusion everyone added a film adaptation of The Hobbit to a collective wishlist. It was announced that Guillermo del Toro would direct a two-part version of The Hobbit with Jackson producing. It became a known sentiment that del Toro was a universally liked choice, and a worthy successor even. In late 2010 it was announced that del Toro had resigned due to delays and budget differences, the world of geeks, film bloggers and trade papers started wondering who would be chosen as the new man for the job and finally news came that Jackson would be taking over once more.
These news came as a relief to me, since not only am I extremely partial to Jackson (I believe I’m one of the few people who loved King Kong and didn’t hate The Lovely Bones) but I’m not a fan of del Toro’s work. He’s too methodical in his approach to fantasy and the worlds he creates or visits feel too mechanical and obvious. Of course, MGM and New Line weren’t thinking about me when these news were announced. I’m just trying to point out how these movies become almost personal issues to people who love them. An appropriation of art—to the point of obnoxiousness—seems to be common in the times of Twitter, something which was reflected perfectly when it was later announced that The Hobbit would become a trilogy.
Soon, people were calling out Jackson for only thinking of different ways to squeeze people’s wallets. Why would we need so many The Hobbit movies when it was based on a single book? Comparisons were made to Twilight and Harry Potter and why wouldn’t they be made? However the vitriol that came out of blogs and Twitter would’ve made anyone think that Peter Jackson was Michael Bay. All of a sudden people seemed to have forgotten this was the man who’d made Heavenly Creatures and the wonderful The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Now he was just an evil troll trying to take down the world economy.
Many writers and journalists I respect followed this herd mentality with some even saying they’d refuse to watch the movies in protest of how Jackson was raping Tolkien’s legacy. Once The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was released critical reaction was muted. Few people downright trashed the film, but no one came out as a true lover either. Over at Cinemascore, audiences gave it an A, but when have audiences known anything, right? The film became a worldwide phenomenon, it’s currently on its way to becoming the seventh highest grossing film of all time, but judging from what people had to say in the awards circuit, it would seem as if it was Transformers. Critics devoted their time to criticize the controversial 48fps system used to shoot the film and “serious” articles about the film were reduced to complaining about something that was merely a peripheral detail.
The movie was presented in three different formats: 2D, 3D and 3D at 48fps. To read about people picking on the latter was the equivalent of giving Casablanca a bad review because you rented a defective copy. Instead of praising Jackson’s adventurous spirit (something people seem to worship in James Cameron) he was anointed as a destroyer of future cinema. Perhaps people had enough of Jackson’s trips to Middle Earth? Perhaps they felt they’d outgrown the Tolkien phase? Was the movie this bad? Could it really be such a wicked piece of filmmaking?
This is where I add my mea culpa. I listened to critics and bloggers and refused to go see the film. For starters no one I knew wanted to go see it, they’d all heard it was bad and it soiled their precious memories of the first trilogy. I spoke to younger people who’d seen it, but as what seems to be the trend now, they complained about its length (how do I find time to tweet when a movie is over 90 minutes long?), I even went ahead and told people not to watch it based on what I’d heard. I too, became convinced that Jackson was evil and that these movies were taking dumps on my teenager memories.
I guess part of what made me take this stance was the fact that I felt I was being robbed of what had been some of my last truly magical Christmas memories. For three years back at the start of the decade, I’d received Christimas presents in movie form, part of why I loved the trilogy was the fact that I saw them with people I loved during my favorite season of the year. That the movies were superb was just the cherry on top of the cake. This time around though, I found myself surrounded by people who refused to even watch something based on herd mentality. People I know looked down at those who wanted to go see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and I had someone even cancel a date when I revealed that was the movie I wanted to go see…
It wasn’t until I realized the movie would stop playing in 48fps IMAX in NYC that I decided I had to face this on my own. It was now or never. If I didn’t see it during its theatrical run and years later critics ate their words, I’d be among those poor souls who became biased grinches and missed out on a great spectacle. If I saw it and hated it, at least I’d be coming up with this conclusion based on my own perception and not that of critics (can someone explain to me when it became a critic’s job to tell people whether they should see a movie or not?). I watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and for almost three hours sat truly and completely hypnotized in the same way I did when I watched The Fellowship of the Ring 11 years before.
I forgot to look at my watch. Forgot there was a world outside of Jackson’s conception of Middle Earth and when the movie arrived to its conclusion—the first of two cliffhangers—all I knew is I wanted more. The movie is not without its flaws, and a decade has indeed made us more cynical as viewers. The way in which CGI has invaded every part of our media consumption makes it impossible for us not to roll our eyes upon seeing another computer creation come up on screen. Yet if movies were valued just based on their ability to tell a story, Jackson’s movies would all be deemed as undeniable masterpieces. No one tells a story like he does.
Watching this movie it became obvious to me that his trilogy wasn’t merely a moneymaking scheme—although even the most naive person wouldn’t be able to deny the fact that studio heads might’ve been thrilled at this idea—but in fact Jackson just refused to leave Middle Earth and was having fun exploring it. His meticulousness is such that we find ourselves discovering that he’s included parts that weren’t in the book, but are parts of Tolkien lore. There are scenes when characters tell stories, filled with more stories. Story is a drug to Jackson. Fans of the first trilogy will undoubtedly be enthralled by how he feeds us pieces that connect to the first movies and not so surprisingly Jackson also shows he has matured as a filmmaker. Within the pastoral landscapes and pink skies there is a sense of melancholy that was missing from the first movies. If The Lord of the Rings was the epic, then The Hobbit was always the haunting lullaby and Jackson captures this. There are scenes in the film that feel familiar because they are narrated with the spirit of ancient oral tradition. Where the first intended to thrill us, this one is aiming for our love. It wants us to show it to our children.
From the score, to the cinematography, it seems as if the movie wishes to imagine images we imagined growing up. The whole mood of the film is one where you can see a child asking “and what happened next?” with a glow in his or her eyes. There is an undeniable feeling of familiarity but never one of tedium. Now, more than ever, I wonder why did the movie go by without people showering it with more enthusiasm? Have we truly become so cynical that getting more of something good is something we can look down on? Has joylessness become part of being an adult? I went into this movie as a 26-year-old with a cold who was sure he was in for an awful time, I came out realizing my heart had grown three sizes that day.