THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012)

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE HOBBIT:  AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012)
By Michael Arruda

Hobbit Poster

(The Scene: A cave in Middle-Earth.  Gollum sits admiring his ring.)

GOLLUM:  My precious!

(A large boulder falls from above, landing on Gollum with a loud THUD! flattening him.  The ring flies through the air through an opening in the cave where it’s caught in midair by MICHAEL ARRUDA who happens to be walking along the green mountain path above.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Cool!  (looks at ring).  This will make a nice stocking stuffer.  (Puts it in his pocket.  Looks over his shoulder).  Come on guys!  Pick up the pace.  This isn’t a leisurely stroll.  We’ve got a job to do!

(Behind him, a group of DWARVES march along.)

MA:  Figures L.L. would take this weekend off, leaving me to babysit a bunch of dwarves from Middle-Earth.

(The DWARVES start singing “Hi ho!  Hi ho!  It’s off to work we go!”)

MA:  Seriously?  Enough with the singing already!  This isn’t Snow White!  This is Cinema Knife Fight! Jeesh!  (one of the DWARVES flips him the bird).  Anyway, we still have a ways to go before we reach our destination, which will give me time to review today’s movie, THE HOBBIT:  AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012), Peter Jackson’s follow-up to his acclaimed LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.

Based on the novel “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien, which he wrote before “The Lord of the Rings,” THE HOBBIT:  AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012) tells the story of a younger Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman).  The movie opens with an older Bilbo (Ian Holm) preparing to write down the events from his youth in order to share the story with young Frodo (Elijah Wood).

This time the plot involves dwarves, gold, and a dragon that drives the dwarves from their kingdom because they had stolen gold from him.  Years later, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) decides to help the dwarves get their kingdom back, and he sees Bilbo as the key to the dwarves’ success.  As he says at one point in the movie, while others view great strength as the way to fight evil, he sees the little things in life as being the most effective, which is why he views Bilbo so highly.

DWARF #1:  That’s a bunch of tree hugging nonsense if you ask me!  Give me a bad-ass brawny warrior with a sharp sword any day of the week, not some soft-spoken hoity-toity Hobbit!

DWARF #2:  I like Bilbo.  And I don’t think hoity-toity is quite the word you’re looking for.  You can’t be hoity-toity and soft-spoken at the same time, can you?

DWARF #1:  Shut up!  Who asked you?

MA:  Much against his better judgment, yet unable to resist an adventure, Bilbo sets off with the dwarves to reclaim their kingdom, having to fight off all sorts of dark forces along the way, including Orcs, goblins, and giant spiders.  What about that dragon?  Sorry folks.  You’ll have to wait until the next movie.  Yeah, bummer, and that’s one of the problems with THE HOBBIT.  Its story is split among three movies.  Something tells me one movie might have been a better idea.

And that’s it in terms of a plot summary, because really, in this movie, the plot is secondary.  Does it matter all that much why hobbits and dwarves are battling evil forces?  Not really.  What matters is their exploits make for a grand spectacle on the big screen.

Now, while I liked this movie—it’s so visually satisfying how can you not like it?—I certainly didn’t love it.  It has a lot of drawbacks.  To me, the biggest drawback is it’s hindered by the feelings of “I’ve seen this before” and “they’ve gone to the well too many times.”  Simply put, it’s nowhere near as good as the LORD OF THE RINGS movies.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy had a stronger story, better characters, and was much more compelling than THE HOBBIT.  There are a lot of memorable characters in THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, characters I really cared about.  In THE HOBBIT, we have Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, and some dwarves.

Bilbo Bagginsteams up with a bunch of dwarves in THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED ADVENTURE.

Bilbo Baggins teams up with a bunch of dwarves in THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY.

DWARF #1:  Will you listen to him?  We get no respect!

DWARF #2:  I heard him say he liked the movie.

DWARF #1:  Yeah, and now he’s knocking us dwarves for not being interesting characters.  I suppose he would have rather seen a movie about elves.  Fool!

MA:  Comparing THE HOBBIT to the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy might be unfair, but since they were both made by Peter Jackson, and both based on works by Tolkien, I think you have to, and in doing so, in viewing THE HOBBIT as part of the same franchise, it plays like the fourth film in a series, and as such, at times, it seems tired and redundant.

Again, this might be unfair, but in order to be completely successful, THE HOBBIT would have had to show me something different, something more, than what I saw in the LORD OF THE RINGS movies, which were phenomenal, all three of them.  THE HOBBIT doesn’t do this, it doesn’t have anything extra that those three previous movies didn’t have, and as a result, in spite of its impressive visuals, it comes off as a disappointment.

Long story short, I liked the LORD OF THE RINGS movies much better than THE HOBBIT.  Hands down.  THE HOBBIT, while good, isn’t excellent.  And another negative here is the knowledge that we have two more of these movies coming.  Really?  Seriously?  It reminds me of SON OF KONG (1933) following up KING KONG (1933).    SON was a likable enough movie, entertaining and well-made, but it wasn’t KING KONG, not by a long shot, and with that in mind, would you be looking forward to two more SON OF KONG movies?  I know I wouldn’t be.

In THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, Christopher Lee’s Saruman leads armies of Orcs in battle and is pretty much the main baddie in the series.  In THE HOBBIT, Christopher Lee’s Saruman sits at a table and has a conversation.   There you go.  One is all out and intense, the other is a dinner table conversation.

The main reason to see THE HOBBIT—and really, the only reason, unless you’re a huge fan of Tolkien—is its visuals.  THE HOBBIT is truly impressive to behold on the big screen.  You have to give Peter Jackson a lot of credit.  He must own the patent on Middle-Earth or something.  Everything about the world he creates in these movies, including THE HOBBIT, looks authentic, which is amazing, considering it’s a world of pure fantasy.

thehobbit

I didn’t like the story, I didn’t really like the characters, but the scenery, costumes, make-up, CGI effects, and the entire feel to this film lifted it to a level that, without these things, wouldn’t exist.  Take all that way, and I don’t like this movie.  I enjoyed looking at this film and was completely impressed by what I saw on the big screen.  Unfortunately, the story wasn’t on par with the visuals, but I can’t deny that the world Jackson created was a remarkable one to see.

So, yes, Peter Jackson does an excellent job at the helm, although, truth be told, no one scene in this movie truly stands out as being memorable.  It’s just the entire package that’s memorable.

I had more trouble with the screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro.  The story wasn’t as strong as the LORD OF THE RINGS movies, nor was the dialogue as memorable.  I’m not sure it’s entirely their fault, as in general, the story told in Tolkein’s “The Hobbit” simply isn’t as compelling as the story told in “The Lord of the Rings” books. And again, I go back to, “They’re making three movies about this?”

The acting is okay.  Martin Freeman is excellent as Bilbo Baggins, and he easily gives the best performance in the movie.  But just how excited can one get about Bilbo Baggins?

DWARF #1:   Not very!

MA:  Bilbo is kind of a Hobbit version of Bob Newhart.  Nice guy, funny, but not exactly all that exciting.

Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf, and as you would expect, he again is very good.  But truthfully, no one else in the cast really stood out.  Compared to the cast of characters in THE LORD OF THE RINGS, the dwarves in this one are inferior.

DWARF #1:  I’m going to kick that guy in the teeth!

DWARF #2:  Can you reach his teeth?

DWARF #1:  Shut up!”

MA:  Andy Serkis fares well once again as his CGI alter-ego, Gollum, but we’ve seen this shtick before.  It’s no longer new and refreshing.  But hey, Christopher Lee is on hand once more as Saruman, and even for just one scene, it’s great to see him.  It’s 2012 and he’s still making movies.  Amazing.

And I saw it in 3D.  Do I even need to say it anymore?  The 3D effects, hardly noticeable, are nothing more than an afterthought, and certainly aren’t worth the extra admission price.

Bottom line, there wasn’t anything unexpected about THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY.  It played out pretty much exactly the way I expected it to play out.  It’s an expensive, well-crafted, near-perfect-looking movie that unfortunately has a weak story and blah characters that prevent it from being anything truly special.

It’s like picking up a book with weak writing that has unbelievably amazing illustrations.  You can’t praise the writing, but you can’t deny the illustrations are remarkable and fun to look at it.

So, it’s with this line of thinking that I give the film three knives.  It easily could have been a two knife movie, if not for the strength of its visual package.

(Stops at a large tree.  Turns to dwarves behind him.)

Okay, guys, we’re here.

DWARF #1:  We came all this way just to see a tree?  What the hell?

DWARF # 2:  It’s a very nice looking tree.

DWARF #1:  Shut up!

MA:  It’s not just any tree.  It used to belong to the Keebler Elves before they closed shop and outsourced.

DWARF #1:  What?  Are we going to make cookies now?  I’m a warrior, not a baker!

DWARF #2:  I like cookies.

DWARF #1:  Shut up!

MA: Something better than cookies.  I have with me – (pulls out a piece of paper) – the secret recipe for Twinkies!  It’s yours if you want it.  Something to fall back on if the warrior thing doesn’t work out.

DWARF #1:  What the hell is a Twinkie?

DWARF #2:  It’s a yellow sponge cake with cream in the middle.

DWARF #1:  Those things that last forever?  Hmm.  Sounds magical.  I just might like it.

DWARF #2:  May I suggest a new name? The Dwinkie.

MA:  And on that note, we’ll say so long, as my friends the dwarves debate whether or not to get into the baking business.

DWARF #2:  Can I get my face on the box and become the face of the franchise?  (mugs for the camera.)

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY ~ three knives!

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