The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit is a pretty good film but there are lots of little things that keep it from being a great film.  Having been written and produced by the same people who did Lord of the Rings, one would think The Hobbit would, at the very least, stand on its own merits as a successful movie.  One would think those writers, editors and directors would not make such a dull, prodding film.  The Hobbit suffers from pacing and structure issues that make a viewer’s return to Middle-earth a difficult experience.  Recently, I posted several changes over the course of a trilogy that made no sense…what follows are a list of questions (listed in bold) and a general critique that prevented me from enjoying The Hobbit.

For starters, why are there three opening acts?  Actually, a better question would be why they were edited to not segue into each other?  The film begins with Bilbo narrating the history of Erebor and Dale until Smaug the Dragon destroys both.  Then the movie cuts to Bilbo having a nice chat with Frodo about the book he is writing about his adventure and the upcoming birthday party shown in Fellowship of the Ring.  Finally, we go to Bilbo 60 years prior where he meets Gandalf, the dwarves and is recruited into their company.

If that sounds confusing, watch the sequence play out on screen.  It’s a giant mess that can easily be solved by editing.  Put the Bilbo/Frodo conversation at the beginning and then have him narrate about Erebor, Dale and Smaug.  Or have the movie start off with just Bilbo writing, “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.”  Then the exposition about the Lonely Mountain can be given when the dwarves and Gandalf are gathered around the dinner table.  Either is more preferable to the zig-zagging the film does.

Why is Azog alive?  And why does he look like Kratos?  In the books, Azog dies at the Battle of Azanulbizar (the big battle outside the east gate of Moria).  In the movie, they change it so that Thorin only chops off his arm.  Somehow, this orc doesn’t die of infection (commendable for a guy who leads a race that is not known for their hygienical practices) and manages to live another 142 years to inconvenience Thorin.  Why not just have Azog’s son (or great grandson) hold a grudge against the dwarves?  Fellowship of the Ring was particularly awesome at creating a big bad Orc chief that was eventually slain in the film’s climax.  The Hobbit film copies so many other aspects from Fellowship, why not this too?

Speaking of copying from Fellowship, look at the similarities The Hobbit shares with it:  Both films begin in The Shire and within the first half-hour, a party takes place there that lays the groundwork for the plot.  A Hobbit then heads east towards Rivendell, where the enemy’s minions harass him and his companions every step of the way.  The party recuperates in the House of Elrond where a council is held to set in motion the rest of the plot.  The group attempts to cross the Misty Mountains but are foiled, forcing them to navigate through the mountain’s interior which is infested with goblins.  Once they exit, the film’s climax takes place within a forest east of the mountains.  Is this simplified plot describing The Fellowship of the Ring or The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey?  This is not necessarily horrible but it invites comparisons to Lord of the Rings, a standard which The Hobbit has no chance of living up to.

Some of these similarities aren’t bad and are to be expected.  Of course the score for The Shire and Rivendell are going to be the same as they were in Lord of the Rings.  Galadriel and Saruman appearing?  They’re both members of the White Council and they did meet that year, so it makes sense for them to appear.  The orcs convening at Weathertop to plan their next move against Thorin’s company?  Blatant fan service for the sake of it and a poor geographical choice for the orcs to boot (it’s farther away from not only their home in the Misty Mountains but the Trollshaws where Thorin’s dwarves are!).

Next question:  How does Gandalf not know about Dol Guldur?  This might be a question answered in the later films but right now, it’s a fair to ask.  In the books, Gandalf knows Dol Guldur is inhabited by The Necromancer who is actually Sauron.  It’s where he finds Thorin’s dad, who gives him the map and key to Erebor.  The only reason the White Council doesn’t kick Sauron’s ass is because Saruman is the leader and refuses to take action.  The trailers for the film showed Gandalf walking in a sinister area that fit Dol Guldur’s description, so why does he look bewildered when Radagast tells him of Dol Guldur when they meet?  The movies also imply that the darkness in Mirkwood is a recent phenomenon, as it starts during Bilbo and the dwarves’ adventure.  Why change this from the books, where Greenwood has been under encroaching shadow since Sauron took up residence in Dol Guldur?  For a story that desperately needs to stretch itself to fill a trilogy, this change makes no sense.  At the very least, if the darkness in Mirkwood has to be changed, why not have it start around the time Smaug destroys the mountain?

Much criticism has been made of The Hobbit being adapted into a trilogy.  After watching the first act, this criticism is warranted.  It’s hard to believe the same people who won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and Film Editing are responsible for the plodding mess that is the first half of this movie.  There’s an unnecessary chase sequence between the orcs and Thorin’s company that stretches believability.  How do the warg-riding orcs not catch a group of dwarves, a Hobbit and an old man who are traveling on foot?  Axe that whole sequence and have Elrond’s elves find them after the scene with the trolls…problem solved.  It’s even worse if you count the entire Rivendell sequence and realize Bilbo Baggins, the movie’s main protagonist (i.e. The Hobbit of The Hobbit), has dropped out of the movie’s focus for the entire middle portion.

And what does this non-Bilbo time provide the audience?  A sequence to see the White Council convene and decide…nothing.  In the books, they decide to attack the fortress of Dol Guldur.  Even Saruman agrees, if only to keep Sauron from searching the Anduin for the Ring.  In the movies, the Council disbelieves Gandalf’s warnings that Sauron has taken shape there.  They cite a 400 year peace as proof, which is silly because of how old they are (400 years would be a footnote to an elf and wizard) and of prior history in Middle-earth (think how long Sauron terrorized Middle-earth in the Second Age…).  Also, the sword of the Witch-King should be pretty damning proof but instead Saruman brushes it off and Elrond says/does nothing.  Why not cut and/or edit some of those establishing walking scenes and build on why Elrond doesn’t think Thorin’s quest is a wise idea?

Last question:  Why does Galadriel refuse to openly take Gandalf’s side during the White Council?  Elrond seems to hold her in high esteem (he tells Thorin or Gandalf it’s the Lady’s favor they’ll have to earn to continue on their quest…despite the fact that her jurisdiction is nowhere near the Great East-West Road).  She has great respect for Gandalf and supports his decisions every other time…why not the time he needs it most when he’s opposed by Saruman and Elrond?  She even plays along with Gandalf’s plan to keep Elrond and Saruman from noticing Thorin and company from leaving Rivendell (the consequences for which are not shown, so it must not have been a major issue…in which case, it was a waste of screen time).  If that’s the answer, then we have to ask…If Elrond is against Thorin continuing on with his quest, why does he not have his elves watching to make sure the dwarves don’t leave without his notice?

These questions made the film’s first two acts really tough to enjoy because they were always on my mind.  It wasn’t until Thorin’s company are captured by the goblins that the film finally comes into its own.  Goblin-town and its inhabitants look unique from the Moria goblins.  Gollum appears but his interactions with Bilbo during the game of riddles have him come across as a completely different character.  The action sequence that starts with the party’s escape from the mountain and ends in the film’s climax is fun (if over the top) and enjoyable.  The actor performances are amazing and Martin Freeman in particular stands out.  With a better editor, this film would have been enjoyable on its own merits.  Instead, The Hobbit sticks too closely to Lord of the Rings to really flesh itself out and ends up feeling rather like a letdown.

But it was still better than The Dark Knight Rises

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