Tag Archives: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Back, and there again

GOLLUM“I feel thin, like butter scraped across too much bread.” That line, and the way Ian Holm delivered it, was the moment I realized that The Fellowship of the Ring was going to be a lot better than I expected, back in 2001. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first installment of Peter Jackson’s new Middle-earth epic, brought that line to mind again, but not in a good way.

I was actually pleased to hear that Jackson and his writers would be expanding their planned two-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel to three full-length features. After all, in their adaptation of The Lord of the Rings the same team had shrewdly brought forward story elements Tolkien left buried in the back matter of The Return of the King.

But for all the talent on display here — and there is a great deal that’s likeable about this film — this initial Hobbit feels like 90 minutes of story rattling around in a nearly three-hour shell. Of course the story doesn’t have the same emotional weight as The Lord of the Rings, but still. The pacing is off. There are long stretches of wheel spinning, and an extended visit to Rivendell that only adds to the sense that the filmmakers are twiddling their thumbs instead of getting on with the real business. Jackson’s lavish take on King Kong had the same problem — he took too long getting started, and then didn’t know when to stop.

On the plus side, however, Jackson hasn’t repeated his biggest casting mistake from King Kong. Jack Black was never for a moment believable as a charismatically roguish filmmaker, but Martin Freeman is the distilled essence of Bilbo Baggins, and even when The Hobbit was at its logiest I kept watching just to see what subtle character touch was coming from him. The film picks up considerable steam at the halfway mark, and the “Riddles in the Dark” sequence with Gollum — more convincing than ever, thanks to improved special effects, and more affecting than ever, thanks to the consistently remarkable Andy Serkis — moved from comedy to menace to pathos with complete mastery. The genuinely emotional finale ended the movie on an undeniable high note. I still wish Jackson and company had stuck to the idea of making two films, but reservations aside, I’m on board for three.  

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Hobbitunes

Howard Shore’s extraordinary music was a big part of why I fell hard for all three Lord of the Rings films, so I was delighted to hear that Shire was on board to score all three installments of The Hobbit, due to hit the cineplexes  in about a month. His music for the first film is streaming here. Shore is still the perfect composer for Middle-earth. 

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Not-so-middling Earth

This new trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has me thinking Peter Jackson was put on this earth for the express purpose of showing up John Boorman, Stanley Kubrick, and every other big-name director who contemplated taking a crack at The Lord of the Rings.

I’ve watched the trailer several times now with the alternate endings (thoughtfully compiled in the clip above) and it has me remembering the evening, ten-plus years ago, when a friend invited me to a screening of the Lord of the Rings preview reel Jackson had prepared for the Cannes film festival. At the time, I knew Jackson chiefly  as the splatter auteur behind Brain Dead. He’d shown unexpectedly depth and discipline with Heavenly Creatures (and, with his casting of Kate Winslet, an eye for talent) but the followup, The Frighteners, had been more than a bit of a mess. Meanwhile, I’m old enough to have seen Ralph Bakshi’s bungled attempt at an animated version of The Lord of the Rings in the theater, and let’s just say my hopes weren’t very high.

The half-hour preview started on exactly the right note, with a hobbit-sized Peter Jackson sitting in Gandalf’s wagon. The montage of scenes carried through to the Mines of Moria sequence, with everything from the bucket falling falling down the well to the fight with the cave troll and Gandalf turning to face the Balrog. After that came another montage, leading up to Frodo in Mount Doom, turning and announcing that he wasn’t going to destroy the ring after all. As I recall, Frodo’s eyes were like black marbles, so the climax obviously underwent some rethinking.

At any rate, I left the screening eager to see the whole film, and since then I’ve been a complete fool for all three movies. I’m getting some of that same buzz from this Hobbit trailer, and I can hardly wait for December to roll around. This time I’ll be able to go with Eldest Daughter, who got hooked on Middle-earth watching the extended DVD versions.

Meanwhile, I wonder if that Cannes preview reel is posted anywhere online? I’d love to see it again.

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