Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

As we near the end of the year, I had to look back on my list of movies that I had been most anticipating and as the year went on, and the list grew shorter, I found myself feeling rather satisfied with the list that I had composed for 2012. While all of the movies I chose may not have been complete masterpieces, they at least left me satisfied. Until this week, only 2 movies remained on the list that needed my viewing: Django Unchained and today's movie, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. And just for the heck of it, we'll give Les Miserables an honorary spot because while I may not have been all that hyped for it this time last year, I have seen footage and behind the scenes featurettes and well, consider me pumped. But I digress.

When I really think about it, The Hobbit had quite a bit to live up to. I mean sure, we've all been looking forward to Avengers and Dark Knight Rises for a few years now, but if you are like me, then this movie was 9 years in the making. It's kind of hard not to get yourself hyped up when you see the day approaching, especially when I remember writing my thoughts on the first trailer when it first hit theaters this time last year. Add on the fact that it has a number of the same stars, the same director, the same screenwriter, studio, even the locations are the same. Is it possible to screw something up when the set up is so perfect? Well, if Peter Jackson's name is on the movie in question, then the answer is very loud and resounding "HELL NO!" While I don't think that HUJ is anywhere near as breathtaking or mind blowing as LOTR, I still think that this movie was very well done and it did anything but let down my rather high expectations.

So the story is first set in the Shire actually during the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring, in which we see Bilbo preparing for his birthday party and, to take his mind off of things, he decides to write his memoir as a gift to his young nephew, Frodo, who also makes an appearance in this movie. As he is writing it, the rest of the movie is essentially one big flashback as Bilbo recounts the story of the Dwarves of Erebor, the dragon Smaug and the series of events that led to him travelling to the Lonely Mountain with Gandalf (played masterfully once again by the great Sir Ian McKellen) and Thorin, grandson of the last king of Erebor. We get a really well told prologue reminiscent of the iconic intro to Fellowship that details the building up and tearing down of Dwarven civilization and introduces us to the main antagonist of the movie, Smaug. In fact, the prologue is not the only thing that I saw as a throwback to Fellowship, the music is very similar and even the ending scene is almost identical to that of Fellowship. Int erms of staying loyal to the book, I would say that they left no t uncrossed nor any i undotted. I could almost quote the movie as the characters were saying it, that's how faithful it was... And that's how big of a nerd I am.  The two best examples of "That's exactly how I pictured it in the book!" would be the scene with the 3 trolls and the Riddles in the Dark.

Let's talk about the cast, both new and returning. First off, one of the great things about the Lord of the Rings movies was the cast. It may have to do with the fact that I have been in love with these movies for over 10 years now, but I am having a hard time imagining anybody playing these parts except the people they cast. To me, Ian McKellen is Gandalf, Hugo Weaving is Elrond, Andy Serkis is Gollum, etc. And the great thing is that this imagery has translated into the new cast for The Hobbit as well, especially Martin Freeman as the younger Bilbo. To me, he is Bilbo incarnate. All in all, I think he's a terrific actor because he is also John Watson incarnate in the BBC series Sherlock, which I really need to review someday. As for the dwarves, I don't really recognize any of them all that well, so I can buy them in their parts as well. Everybody put their best feet forward and it really shows, there is not a single weak performance in this movie. But...

We need to address one character that, as of the time that I am reviewing this, has gotten some early hate. Radagast the Brown, a wizard that is pretty much a magical earth-child, has already been compared to Jar-Jar, who infamously and almost single-handedly nearly ruined Star Wars. In order for a character to be on par in any way with Jar-Jar, he would need to be made purely for failed comic relief, contribute nothing to the story, and just make you feel unlcean and all around racist for watching him. Radagast, actually does play a part in the story and was not meant to be a purely comical character. Sure, he's a bit odder than the others, but I don't think of him as being a purely comic relief character. And on top of that, he's white, I'm white, I don't feel racist for looking at him. So that's out of the way. Moving on.

The one gripe that I have heard about the movie is the slow pace of it. Being that they need to spread all this material over the course of 3 movies, you would think they would all be a bit shorter. But no, it clocks at almost a 3 hour run time. And again, while slow pacing is an issue that many other people will have with movies, it never really bothered me. As long as I don't feel like there is nothing but filler or the scene drags out too long, I could give a damn. Turn a 30 second scene into a 10 minute scene if you must. But, for my money and what I was picturing, the scenes are all the perfect length, and I never found myself checking my watch.

So why does this not blow me away like LOTR? Well, you have to keep in mind, I was 9 when I was first introduced to the tale of Frodo and the Ring, and I knew next to nothing about Middle Earth when I sat in that theater that day. Really it has more to do with the fact that it was my first trip into Middle Earth, and there is only one of those, but they did come pretty damn close to making me feel like I was being introduced to it all over again. Though, this is not a bad thing in the least, seeing as how it felt like I was returning to a place I truly loved. It would be like going on a vacation to the Grand Canyon years after seeing it for the first time. You can't beat that first experience, but seeing it again brings back all those familiar feelings.

The long and short of it: I love this movie, and I cannot wait to pick it up when it comes out on DVD and I really wish I had a time machine so I can go a year ahead and see part 2!

Final Grade: A-