Ardwulf’s Spoiler-free Non-Review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Tolkien’s book is a tight little novel of less than 100,000 words. So there was, at a glance, reason to be suspicious when Peter Jackson declared that he was going to blow it up into three 2+ hour epic films. Thankfully, the worst of those fears are unrealized.

Part of this is due to the brevity of many scenes, even the iconic ones, in the novel. The Company’s visit to Rivendell, for example, in which Elrond identified Glamdring and Orcrist and reads the moon letters on Thror’s map, take up about two of the book’s pages. The scene with the trolls isn’t much longer. There’s no real way to make these scenes as short as they are in the book (in comparison to the book’s length) and still retain them, so Jackson fleshes them out, usually to good effect.

There’s also a second narrative thread in the film separate from the story from the novel; basically the background stuff that was going on during and after the events of The Hobbit but before The Lord of the Rings, as shown the the appendices to The Return of the King and elsewhere, although Jackson and company don’t have the film rights to “elsewhere,” so we’ll have to see what this develops into. There’s not all that much of it here in this first film, just a couple of scenes with Radagast and a meeting of the White Council, here depicted as Gandalf, Saruman, Elrond and Galadriel. Tolkien himself never enumerated the Council’s roster, and the only two characters we know were on it were the two Wizards… it’s probably safe to put Glorfindel and Cirdan on there as well, but Jackson’s films excise those characters.

Which is all okay. Film is a different medium than print, and it has different needs. One expects some things from the book to be cut or minimized and others to be expanded. All of which Jackson does here with perhaps not quite the ease he displayed in The Fellowship of the Ring. But it’s a workmanlike job, clumsy here and padded there, but not, I think, too much to the detriment of the whole film.

One such addition I did not care for was Radagast. I’m fine with his inclusion in theory but he’s just a bit too wacky in the implementation. Overall, though, Jackson sticks pretty closely to the Hobbit part of the narrative (Radagast is in the other thread,) while punching up some scenes, much as he did in the earlier films, without any major departures.

The most significant misfire of the film is the 48 FPS flim-flam, and I shan’t be seeing the follow-ups in that format. It does make the 3D a little smoother and lessens some of its issues with lighting and contrast, but it also makes everything look cheap and plasticky, like you’re watching an episode of “Criminal Minds” in too high a definition and on a screen much too large, one on which you can see the makeup-filled pores on every actor’s face in the closeups, while in the long shots everything looks laminated.

Some people are reporting that they liked the higher frame rate. Good for them, but I felt it subtracted from the film experience. All in all, though, I am happy with the film and would see it again and advise others to do the same.

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In December 2012, The Hobbit Comes

The trailer for 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey hit iTunes (and, of course, everywhere else) yesterday, and rolled over both Facebook and G+ like a tsunami. Prior to this we had seen a couple of behind-the-scenes videos and some stills of the principal cast that made some of them look rather goofy. I’m happy to say that everything seems to have landed fairly softly, based on the trailer.

As I have discussed before, I have my issues with Peter Jackson’s films, especially where they deviate most jarringly from Tolkien’s narrative core. There are also occasions when he tried to punch up that narrative with fast action. This worked in several places, especially in Moria, but in others, especially in the third film, it felt forced, heavy-handed and altogether over the top.

Nevertheless, the Jackson films are unquestionably masterpieces of film-making, and do a marvelous job of translating a very difficult and complex book with a very unconventional structure to the new medium of film. There are things to criticize in them, but a great deal to admire as well.

Jackson’s style of adaptation, evidenced especially in the three extended editions, may better suit the looser and more comedic Hobbit than the relatively somber Lord of the Rings. And just as there were things, like Moria and Weathertop, that we knew Jackson was going to absolutely nail based on the early footage out of Fellowship, so too in this trailer we have the dinner party at Bag End with the plate-tossing and the Dwarves’ song, taken almost verse-for-verse from the book and delivered with impressive weight in the trailer.

Jackson’s two-film Hobbit promises, as well, to tie in very tightly with his earlier adaptation of LotR, bringing in a number of things like the White Council and the Necromancer that link the two books but which happen offstage in one or the other, returning everyone who could be plausibly connected with those events – Galadriel and Saruman and even Legolas as well as characters like Elrond who actually appear in The Hobbit – and even bringing in some elements and characters like Radagast, played by Sylvester McCoy, the seventh (eighth if you count Peter Cushing) incarnation of Doctor Who, who were introduced in LotR but didn’t make it into the film adaptation.

The Dwarves’ song is getting a lot of justifiable praise. For me, though, the highlight of the trailer is Ian McKellen, spectacularly returned as Gandalf the Grey, who I much preferred to the comparatively stuffy Gandalf the White, who added gravitas at the expense of warmth. That alone would have me excited beyond measure to see the film. Add in Beorn and Smaug and Bard the Bowman and the Battle of Five Armies, and it’s gonna be a long year.