Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - A Fan's Review

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a film (well, actually part of a greater film) that I've been waiting for since I was a kid. Ever since Seventh Grade when I was given a book report assignment and the choice of something called The Hobbit by someone named J.R.R. Tolkien I've been a fan of all things related to Middle Earth. Finally today, Sunday, December 16, I had the opportunity to attend a screening of the film with my wife.

I had been following the Production Video Blog Series and inflating my excitement for the film proportionately along with the build up for the release. I had full faith in Wingnut Films' ability to deliver a delightful Tolkien film, obviously because of their exceptional production of The Lord of the Rings, and I was certain that I would not be disappointed based on the filmmaking efforts I witnessed through the postings to The Hobbit Blog. I disregarded the reviews to which I was exposed, avoided all the rest, and I went in to the theater expecting nothing more than what Peter Jackson and company had already given us, the Tolkien fan community, in their previous Tolkien-inspired filmic efforts. So, before I go into my review, in which there might be possible spoilers, I just want to say thank you to Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro, Weta Workshop, and all of the fine actors and outstanding crew who made this film and the subsequent ones possible. You're all cinematic titans in my book. (Also, yes, this means that there's more than likely a bias in favor of the film throughout this review)

From beginning to end I found the varied aspects of this movie to be terrifically enchanting. Its story, its design, its characterizations, and its score delighted me. From Bilbo's introduction to the dwarves of Erebor and the tale of the great defeat dealt them by Smaug (which leads into the events of the greater story of The Hobbit), to the flashback that is the main story, up till the very end at the eyrie of the Lord of the Eagles I was completely invested. I was delighted to see the familiar faces from The Lord of the Rings in the film's opening, but I was stunned even more by the portrayals of characters that, till now, had only existed in my imagination. After the credits rolled I reflected upon my feelings towards the film and found myself completely satisfied and more than overjoyed at the incredibly entertaining experience.

Specifically, I felt that the history and backstory of the dwarven culture was the most appealing and fantastic thing about this movie. Seeing the halls of Erebor and the earlier glory days of Dwarvendom was incredible. Out of all the fantasy races which exist I would have to say that I am above all else a fan of dwarves, specifically those of this literary universe. In Tolkien's literature the dwarves are the creation of the Valar Aulë (a god-like, craft-focused being sent to Earth with his other deific kin by the one god), carved from the rock of the world before any of the other peoples existed, in spite of the plans of the being which created the universe. Eru Ilúvatar, the one god who created the demigod-like Valar, commanded Aulë to put the fathers of the dwarves to rest after they were given life because he had designed the Elves to be the firstborn race instead, but the dwarves were granted the privilege to continue their existence alongside the other peoples, regardless of the nature of their creation, because of the love their creator showed for them. From the start they were a flawed people set apart from the world and the others within it. I think that this is a large part of what endeared them to me, but I digress.

There were a couple of issues I had with the film which nagged at me as I watched it. Bear in mind that these are based on my opinion and hold no more validity or importance than that. One issue I had was with the choices made for the character of Radagast. They made him out to be a clownish type of character with strange quirks created as apparent nods to the counter culture. Also, the production designers chose, for some reason, to smear half of his face with bird feces, as he tends to keep birds under his hat. I guess that this was an attempt to show how "One" he was with nature. I always imagined the character to be a quiet, earthy, eccentric type of wizard, something like a cross between Gandalf and the Merlin portrayed by Sam Neill in the NBC series of the same name. Another issue I had was with the use of Azog and his warg-riders. Azog was not a part of The Hobbit. Actually, he died before the events of the tale took place and it was not by the hand of Thorin, his father, or his grandfather. In the film he's used as a main, story-driving, action-injecting antagonist. He shows up spewing orcish about his quest for vengeance against Thorin Oakenshield and driving an attack against the protagonists whenever the story's energy winds down. I guess I understand why he was written in this manner, but I don't like the choices that were made. Regardless of these issues, I feel that the majority of the exceptional aspects of the film outweigh my few gripes.

With plenty of foreshadowing and toying with character's motivations and behaviors the filmmakers have prepared us for the next two films. In "An Unexpected Journey" we see Thorin move back and forth between regretting Bilbo's presence on the quest to then become an overly thankful chum to the Hobbit, giving us a glimpse into possible future conflict (not as much possible as actual, if you've read the novel). We also see the development of Bilbo Baggins, and the rise of a greater evil, which we know will eventually grow to become the Lord of the Rings himself. I anxiously look forward to next December when I'll be able to take in another dose of Tolkien-inspired cinema magic. Until then I'll feel slightly bitter about the extension of the story into a trilogy and pay another visit or two to the local movie theater to watch the Hobbit's adventure again and again.

I give The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey a five out of five.

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