A Trip to the Cinema
I rarely hear about a movie until after it comes out, but The Hobbit: An Unexpected Jouney was different. I first heard that they were going to make a movie of that book in the NaNoWriMo forums, over a year before it came out. The other day I finally saw it — on the big screen.
Before I launch into my review, I should mention where I watched this most anticipated film: a cinema in Phnom Penh! Perhaps, like me, you can believe that there would be a cinema in Phnom Penh, but you picture tiled floors, hard chairs, rubbish on the floor. If so, you’re wrong. The cinema might almost have been Hoyts or Dendy. The floor was carpeted, the halls were dimly lit, the seats were clean and soft-cushioned, the room sloped downwards. Even the cafeteria sold popcorn and soft drinks and chips (not that I would have cared if it didn’t). The only difference I noticed were the Khmer subtitles at the bottom of the screen.
But we were there to watch An Unexpected Journey — not to gawk at the cinema. So on with the review.
I loved the prologue: Smaug’s destruction of Erebor. When I imagine Erebor, I usually think of the dark, crumbling, smoke-smelling caverns of Smaug’s occupation. I don’t remember it in its former glory as the dwarves do. In the movie, we see see Erebor in all its magnificence before Smaug’s arrival. We see vast caverns, not dark, but filled with light. We see rivers of gold flowing through the mountain. We see hordes of dwarves mining the gold and lovingly crafting it. Knowing what the dwarves were seeking to reclaim — seeing it with my own eyes — gave the quest that much more purpose.
Then Smaug came with fire and fury and drove out the dwarves. I thought the destruction scene was quite good, but I found it interesting that while we saw the dragon’s tail, his feet, and torrents of his fire, we never saw his body. I suspect the film-producers want to save the full sight of this monstrous reptile until the final movie, and it seems like a good plan to me.
Having only watched The Lord of the Rings once, and that not so recently, I don’t really remember how it depicted dwarves. But whether or not they looked the same, the dwarves in this movie were awesome. Short, stocky, with fantastic hairstyles and beard-styles, very rowdy and with voracious appetites, they were exactly the right kind of people to turn up unexpected on Bilbo’s doorstop. Maybe a little bit over-the top that first night, but almost perfect. I really liked their singing too. Nevillegirl said that she wasn’t looking forward to the dwarves’ singing, but while I don’t like songs much in books (I can never think of tunes for them), I really liked it in the movie.
In fact, the music in general was great in this movie. As was it in The Lord of the Rings, as far as I can remember.
Even though the dwarves settled down after that first dinner, over-the-top was quite a consistent trend in this movie. The worst case was with the giants on the Misty Mountains: was it really necessary to make such an unrealistic scene? And while the orc-kingdom inside the Misty Mountains was pretty cool, I thought the battle scene in there was over-the-top. Hundreds of orcs falling off the pathways, probably to their deaths; dwarves falling huge distances, only to pick themselves up and keep running… enough said. Such scenes kept the movie from any possible danger of becoming boring, but they lost it a lot of plausibility.
The film makes a lot of changes from the book, and I like some of them — such as the destruction of Erebor — but I’m not sure about others. A lot of it is not just a question of adding some scenes and cutting out others: the entire plot is going in a different direction to the plot of the book.
For one thing we have Azog, the pale orc who is hunting down Thorin and is bent on vengeance. Maybe it was hard for the producers to make The Hobbit into three movies and not meet the villain until the final movie — especially if the villain, unlike Sauron in The Lord of the Rings — is just sitting complacently on a pile of gold. But even if it is necessary, I’m not sure whether I like this villain addition. Though I’ll grant that he looks awesome.
Then there is the Necromancer. The Necromancer is only mentioned in passing in the book, and I would appreciate the movie fleshing him out — but the fleshing out hasn’t happened quite the way I expected. In the book, Gandalf knew about the Necromancer the whole time: he managed to sneak into the Necromancer’s stronghold and retrieve the key from Thrain. In the movie, Gandalf didn’t know about the Necromancer until Radagast told him (I don’t know where Thrain was in the movie). I am not sure why this abandonment of the original story was necessary.
While The Lord of the Rings had the fluff taken out, The Hobbit has been fluffed up (though not with anything the least bit slow or boring). This has potential to be a good thing — and it has been a good thing in some parts of this movie — but in some parts I would hesitate to call it a good thing. I hope it helps more in the following movies..
On the whole, while it differed a lot from the book, I very much enjoyed the movie. But I think they might be trying to do too much with it. From my small experience, when film-producers do a sequel (or prequel) they try to make it grander and more intense than the original. In the same way, the producers of The Hobbit are trying to make it grander and more intense than The Lord of the Rings — but I don’t think it should be that way. The Lord of the Rings was an impossibly difficult quest to save the whole of the Middle Earth from domination by Sauron — The Hobbit is about Bilbo’s holiday. Undoubtedly, it was a long, dangerous holiday, one from which he was not guaranteed return — but it was not dangerous on the scale of The Lord of the Rings, and the tone ought to be lighter.
Nevertheless, for all my nit-picking, I very much enjoyed the film. I am looking forward to meeting the dragon Smaug, with whose eye An Unexpected Journey so forebodingly closed.