I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on Wednesday last week, and have been mulling it over in my head since. The problem with it as a film is that I am inevitably going to compare it with one of the best film series of recent years, everyone’s favourite, Lord of the Rings. And I don’t think it’s unfair to do so, after all, it’s the same people making the Hobbit and, as you will probably realise if you’ve seen it, it very much wants you to have seen Lord of the Rings before watching it. The problem with that is, however, that I’m not entirely sure The Hobbit stands quite as tall (hurr, hurr) as its predecessor.
Before I go to deeply into any flaws I feel the film might possess, I would first like to say that The Hobbit was an excellent, thoroughly enjoyable film that probably still rates among my top 5 films this year. It was as visually impressive as we’ve come to expect from these film-makers, and did a spectacular job of bringing the fantasy world of Middle Earth to life once again, and while I may have some gripes with all the extra material added into the film, which I will go into later, I loved seeing all the edges of the setting brought into the limelight (for instance, I’m yet to speak to anyone who didn’t love Radagast).
However, that said, I don’t think I can give The Hobbit a 100% approval rating. Firstly, I feel I need to point in the direction of its somewhat contorted story. While Lord of the Rings took a long story and kept it together in a continuous and tight trilogy, the Hobbit is really stretching to find material to fill the screentime. At around 2 hours and 50 minutes long, it’s certainly carrying on the tradition of long films, but I’m not sure that the source material really has enough interesting events and plot to fill all that time, and they’re very much reaching out to other books in the Tolkien mythology to fill the gaps. While this does mean that we get to see things that previous films may have only left to the imagination, the constant cuts away from what feels like the main plot to other events, often happening far in the past of the current story left me feeling somewhat disjointed. It’s like watching a film with all the scenes normally reserved for the DVD special edition included. Sure, it’s a lot of interesting and awesome stuff, but I can’t help feeling like I should be saying “yeah, I can see why they cut this out”. It doesn’t flow and constantly distracts from what feels like it should be the main plot.
Now, it could certainly be that I’m just mistaking Bilbo’s journey with the Dwarves to fight Smaug as the central plot, and in fact what is happening in the background is actually more key to what’s going on than I’m giving it credit for, but if so, they’re very much depending on the goodwill Lord of the Rings has generated for people to come back and see that payoff. I feel they definitely could have worked harder to make the extraneous scenes feel more integral to the film.
In addition, there seemed to be a lot of assumptions that you would know who these characters were from the previous films. Now, I don’t know how hard it would be for a person coming fresh to these films to pick up on who is who, since neither myself nor anyone I know has managed to avoid the LotR trilogy, and to be honest, I doubt I’ll ever know, but characters like Gandalf, Saruman and Galadriel are presented with little or no explination as to why they are figures of such importance in the mythos. Obviously, a lot can be picked up from inference, but I wonder if new viewers would be left a little lost as to who these characters are, and why the things they say are given such weight within the film.
If it feels like I’m just trying to find flaws within the film, don’t be surprised, because mostly that’s what I’m doing. The Hobbit is altogether an excellent film and does a great job of showing the universe of Tolkien’s mythology while still managing to have a central plot and story, even if it does seem to briefly go awry in places. The visuals are, as always, spectacular and while the film may rely heavily on its viewers having seen the preceding films, I’m not sure I can entirely criticize it for that. After all, if you haven’t seen Lord of the Rings at this point, may I suggest your first port of call should be a shop to pick up the trilogy (probably for the price of a cinema ticket nowadays…) and marathon that first.
In short, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is great viewing. Dramatic, funny and interesting, it’s well worth the price of admission, although I’m not sure it really stacks up as well compared to its epic predecessors.
Also, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!
(I’ll get back to talking about RPGs soon, I promise. I just need to play some!)