Sunday, January 6, 2013

All Good Tales Deserve Embellishment: The Hobbit Review

Gandalf: You'll have a tale or two to tell of your own, when you come back. 

Bilbo: Can you promise that I will come back?

 Gandalf: ...No. And if you do, you will not be the same.
 I spent the evening of December 13th at the local movie theatre, getting in line for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey  3D IMAX premiere. My roommates, three other friends, and I showed up at 9 pm, cloak-clad, and sat on the floor for most of the three hours until the studio opened. Part of the reason we showed up so early was to make sure we each got a packet of the exclusive free posters. One of my friends showed up to her theatre even sooner-- 6 pm.

I haven't put mine up yet, but that's partially because my dorm room walls are already full with posters of Doctor Who, Narnia, Tangled, and other fandoms. But when I studied them, I realized they use the Tengwar runes, Quenya-style, and contain actual words. I understood a few words, because I sometimes use Tengwar in letters to my penpal, but the letters were too faint to make out more than a few words. All the same, it really made me happy that I understood the letters.

Even thought I had a great time with my friends, I really wanted to attend again with my family. And this Saturday, we did. Well, half of us. Dad and the teenage brother went to see Lincoln, while Mom, the younger brother, and I went to see The Hobbit, since they were at the same theatre and roughly the same time.

One of my favorite elements that I noticed even more this time was the number of similarities with the original film trilogy. Gandalf bumps his head on Bilbo's chandelier,  the Ring falls onto Bilbo's hand just as it did Frodo's, Gandalf "dims the spotlights" and gets deep-voiced to make Thorin take Bilbo as he did to make Bilbo surrender the Ring, Frodo puts the "No Admittance Except on Party Business" sign on the gate, and the Eagles are summoned by a moth (See more examples by scrolling to call back/call forward here) There are also some great nods to the book.

  • The chapter six title "Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire" is dropped by Gandalf and Thorin as they flee the Wargs.
  • Saruman claims Radagast disgraces the Istari--a term used only in the Appendices.
  • Likewise,  Gandalf's claim to have "forgotten [the Blue Wizards'] names" referrers to the fact they are unnamed in Middle-earth. The Unfinished Tales suggests the Quenya names of Alatar and Pallando, but those are of uncertian canon.
  • Radagast believes the spiders are "spawn of Ungoliant," the giant spider who aided Morgoth in destroying the two trees.
  • Gandalf says Smaug is aware of the smell of Dwarves, but unaware of Hobbits. This is a dropped note in "The Quest of Erebor," Gandalf's account of these events.
  • Lindir appears to welcome the Company to Rivendell.
  • All "White Council" elements come from the Appendices and/or posthumously published works.
  • We actually get to see Thorin earn the "Oakenshield" title.
I'm sure there are more that I haven't noticed, but feel free to add them in the comments. But really, all those little tie-ins just make it better. The tone discrepancy between the original books set the filmmakers in the difficult position of either taking a serious approach to The Hobbit and being accused of making it too dark, or imitating the more juvenile tone and risking dissonance between the films. Overall, I think they did a good job, making it serious without being too depressing. I only noticed two main changes, which are both justifiable in my mind.
1. The inclusion of Radagast. First of all, he is mentioned in the book, if only in passing, so it's not as if he was a new character. Secondly, his role in Fellowship (summoning an Eagle to Isengard) was given to a moth, so it balances things out to add him here. Finally, I just think he fits the tone of the Hobbit films well--a crazy-awesome chap who makes a significant discovery in Dol Gulder. Besides, he's played by Sylvester McCoy, who played the Seventh Doctor in Doctor Who. I'm always up for seeing Who actors again.
2. The antagonist role of Azog, the pale goblin. Azog isn't entirely invented either: he started the War of Dwarves and Orcs when Thror attempted to reclaim Moria. This gives a personal angle to his hatred of Thorin, and helps simplify things for new viewers.
One of my favorite parts of the film was the beautiful settings. I've never been good at visualizing fictional places, but I was so pleased with all of them, from Dale and Erebor to the Shire and Rivendell. Just the sense of yes. That's how these places should look. How they do look. I was especially pleased with Dale. It has a distinctive architecture from Minas Tirith or Edoras (the other two strictly human habitations we've seen) but feels more cheerful than the antiquarian former or warlike latter.  And Rivendell...oh, for a complete film set in Rivendell. All those waterfalls and statues and trees...I hope heaven looks like that.
And the Riddles in the Dark scene...oh, that scene is a masterpiece of acting and cinematography.  Both Freeman and Serkis deserve some sort of award for that scene--especially Serkis, who had the challenge of portraying (as I'd put it) "a psychopathic two-year-old," the mentally-damaged Smeagol side and the cunning Gollum side. It's funny, but an unpredictable villain is almost more dangerous, because they have no agenda to manipulate, no good side to stay on. But the acting--not just the dialogue, but the hand motions, pacing, all of it just is absolutely perfect.
As for the cast of dwarves, I appreciate the work that went into distinguishing each character. I can distinguish most of them by name, if not all,  but my favorite is, without a doubt, Ori.
I mean, just look at that face. And the sweater he wears for the first scene, and how he asks Bilbo where to put his plate when he's done eating...he's absolutely adorkable, that wonderful combination of adorable and dorky. Compared to the head-butting Dwalin or the brooding Thorin, he's much more mild-mannered and considerate. He carries a book with him for much of the film, which is likely The Book of Mazbul, which means this skelton is likely the remains of my favorite dwarf. I mean, Fili and Kili are handsome, but I'm much more attracted to scrawny guys who are intelligent. He even knows the Tengwar (Elf-runes).
Anything else? Well, I don't think it was too long. All the scenes at the beginning helped establish the Dwarves' characters and how out-of-place Bilbo was among them. If anything should have been cut, I would have eliminated the entire stone-giants sequence. It was only a brief gag in the books, and doesn't quite fit with the elaborate creation narratives for the other races (in the Silmarillion). I'd also make the goblin battle sequence shorter too (including the Wargs).
At least the worst is behind us.
 Not in the least Bilbo, not in the least. But I'm looking forward to seeing what lies ahead.


  1. I completely agreed with everything you said, which happens only rarely.

    I think I agree about Ori, too, but they're all--oh, no, I liked Bofur best. Ori second best, I think.

    Oh, and Radagast. Ah, dear brown Wizard. He's brilliant.
    (I'd only seen a few clips of Seven, but since watching this (and to cope with Merlin ending cause I had an idea for a crossover fic) I watched...oh, what's it called...the first serial of the last series. Battlefield, I think. And he's wonderful and brilliant and very much the Doctor.)

    1. Battlefield is one of my favorite 7th Doctor serials. Another good one is "Curse of Fenric--" it's got some great parallels with "God Complex."