Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

GO EAST, YOUNG MAN

Main Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan

Director: Peter Jackson

As I was walking through Chateau Maine this past week, I tripped over a carton of Lesterene brand avocado and shrimp facial scrub.  One of the bottles broke and I soon learned that it has potential application as a soothing foot massage oil.  Therefore, I called my partner, Mme. Ellise whom I have put in charge of my MNM branded fine retail products to see if we might perhaps paste some new labels on a few gross and sell them to podiatrists throughout the land.  Mme. Ellise had some rather discouraging news about sales over these last few years while I have been somewhat indisposed.  The women of America have just not been buying Lesterene beauty products, Vicki’s Secret lingerie or Maine’s Manes wigs in the quantities necessary to support me in the style to which I have been accustomed.  She told me that the new arbiters of taste and style are some family of whom I have never heard named Kardashian.  I knew an attorney of that name once whom I engaged to sue Eve Harrington when she tried to steal one of my movie roles some years ago.  I wonder if there’s a relationship?

Middle Earth Poster at Premiere

Wellington prepares for the 2012 Hobbit premiere.

Anyway, mulling the problem over, I came up with an absolutely brilliant idea.  I have taste, style, large quantities of beauty products and glamorous gowns, and a certain je ne sais quoi which the American  woman would die for.  I am going to go into the celebrity wedding business.  Brides to be can hire MNM enterprises to turn their special day into something bound to make the cover of People magazine.  I’ll handle the dress, the catering, the cake and even throw some folding chairs out on the back terrace at Chateau Maine for the perfect setting.  I telephoned my old friend Zsa Zsa to see if she might be interested in being our inaugural bride as she has had so much practice but she’s not between husbands at the moment.   I’m sure someone will turn up as soon as I can make some calls.  Once I host a few that make the papers and the style show, I will be able to sell some lower priced versions of my styles to the brides of America who want Hollywood glamour on a budget.

All this talk of sit down dinners and formal place settings made me search for a film that involves impromptu entertaining.  After all, if one is unaware of the number of paparazzi, how can you possibly know how many place settings to lay for them?  They must sit at the table if they are going to get the kind of shots that will get you the cover of Parade magazine.  I therefore pulled out the DVD of the first of Peter Jackson’s new Middle Earth trilogy, The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey, originally released in 2012, as I recall the story beginning with a festive sit down dinner for fifteen.  The film was in theaters during my time on ice so I had not yet had a chance to see it and decided to catch up with it on video so as to be ready for the ensuing chapters as they become available.   Long time readers of my little musings may recall that I was exceedingly fond of Jackson’s prior efforts, The Lord of the Rings films from a decade or so ago.

Hobbit Sculpture for Premiere

Wellington REALLY prepares for 2012 Hobbit premiere.

I am sorry to say that lightning did not strike twice.  The film, while entertaining, does not ascend the heights of the previous trilogy.  It starts out promisingly enough, with a prologue which efficiently dispenses with the back story of the dwarven kingdom of Erebor, deep under the Lonely Mountain and how it was attacked and conquered by the dragon Smaug.  It very nicely teases us with the dragon but we never get a good look at the beast, just a large claw or a flicking tail.  This prologue sets up themes of greed, loss and kinship that will keep returning throughout the film and, presumably the trilogy.  We then proceed to the Shire, with the familiar Howard Shore score with its flutes and French horns where Bilbo (Ian Holm) and  his young cousin Frodo (Elijah Wood) recreate a bucolic moment from The Lord of the Rings and we then regress in time to Bilbo’s younger days where he becomes Martin Freeman (of television’s new Sherlock series).  Soon Bilbo’s placid life is invaded by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan) accompanied by thirteen dwarves of a wild variety of personal grooming habits led by Thorin (Richard Armitage), dispossessed prince of Erebor.  The dwarves have a scheme to win their kingdom back from the dragon and soon Bilbo is accompanying them on their journey to the East.  Complications ensue including hungry trolls, evil goblins and orcs, somewhat standoffish elves who apparently live in a Thomas Kinkade painting, and daring rescues by unlikely allies.  The film ends with the company only partway through their journey and with a promise of two sequels to come.

Martin Freeman by RanZag

Martin Freeman when he isn’t playing Bilbo. Photo by RanZag.

The general fault with the film is in the treatment of the source material.  The Lord of the Rings was a monumental work of fiction full of plot and incident and filled with a large number of characters that, in many ways are archetypes taken from Germanic and Norse mythologies.  Three separate three hour films were barely enough to do justice to the material, as the later emergence of the longer director’s cuts on DVD  showed.  Those films were full of visual grandeur and a sense of a fully realized world with many other side stories that could have been told if there had only been time.  The Hobbit, on the other hand, is based on a children’s book that author J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to amuse his own children with a very simple narrative line that has little in terms of symbolism or layers of meaning.  The heroes, thirteen dwarves, are pretty much indistinguishable from each other in the original novel which leads to a major dilemma in terms of film.  How do you keep an audience interested in thirteen leading characters who have no personality?  Jackson’s solution has been to give them very different looks, ages, styles of facial hair and the like but few of them get enough screen time to establish a character.  I kept asking myself ‘now which one is the one in the silly hat?’

The decision to split the film into three full length features has led to an enormous amount of padding on the part of the screenplay  (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens from the early films joined this time around by Guillermo del Toro who was attached to the project as director for a time).  Some of this padding works.  Scenes not from the novel that allow us to glimpse Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) are a delight.  A number of others, predominantly poorly staged action sequences involving large numbers of orcs chasing large numbers of dwarves are not.  An escape from underground caves by our plucky heroes which resembles some demented theme park ride is particularly offensive.  The creation of a goblin villain Azog (Manu Bennett), presumably to give us a big bad through all three films is also unnecessary.

Jackson, using the incredible New Zealand scenery and the skilled technicians from his Weta workshops does give us the Middle Earth of spectacular beauty that we have come to expect and there is incredible location work involving mountain vistas.   He also gets a couple of greatish performances from Freeman and from Andy Serkis, reprising his role as Gollum.  Their riddle scene is a classic.  McKellan, old pro that he is, also has some very good moments.   He is helped by his production team, many of them veterans of the original trilogy and the film has the same look and feel as the earlier films.  If he had not succumbed to excessive and tedious action sequences, it might have been a good movie.

My DVD has the film, with good picture and sound transfer.  It has no commentary track which is a pity, as Jackson and his team do excellent ones.  A second disc as a number of video blogs with a lot of behind the scenes information about the filming process.  Jackson himself comes across as a good natured hobbit  himself in these bits.

Dwarf smiths.  Thrown crockery.  Rainstorm riding.  Gratuitous bad troll jokes.  Shards of Narsil cameo.  Gratuitous Bret McKenzie.  Mountain throwing.  Lost ring. Forest fire.  Eagles have landed.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our introduction here, and visit her entire review catalog here.

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