The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

“I’m not a hero or a warrior. I’m not even a burglar.”

The Hobbit

Why can’t Peter Jackson just leave things alone?

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. AND PROBABLY A LOT OF RANTING.

Why? Why? Why?

That’s basically what I was thinking for two and three-quarter hours.

The Hobbit is J.R.R. Tolkien’s cheerful, uplifting children’s novel about a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, who goes on a quest with some dwarves to the Lonely Mountain to fight a dragon.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is Peter Jackson’s violent, would-be epic film about thirteen dwarves with a grudge against some random orc who go on a quest to Erebor to get their gold back.

And that about sums it up. There is just too much backstory to this film. Some of it has been mined from Tolkien’s endless Middle-earth histories, from The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and the like. Fair enough. Reconstruct Tolkien’s remarkable world as accurately as possible. Fine. But some of it has just been made up. Where did all that rubbish about the “pale orc” stalking Thorin’s company come from, exactly? If you’re going by Tolkien’s story, well, Azog (the aforesaid “pale orc”) was killed long before the events of The Hobbit at the Battle of Azanulbizar, according to The Encyclopedia of Arda, and, furthermore, the original Azog had no specific reason to hate Thorin. See? Just made up, for no purpose other than to make the story a) longer, and b) more epic and less unique. There are loads of “epic” films out there. There aren’t many films that celebrate the importance of the ordinary as opposed to the heroic.

Oh, An Unexpected Journey nods in that direction, with Gandalf paying lip service to the idea that “it’s the everyday deeds that change the world” (or something like that, anyway); but the film is full of protracted battles and unnecessary enmity that just. Wear. You. Down. Case in point: at the end of the film Thorin strides out to attack Azog while his friends are clinging to a tree branch. I literally wanted to throw my Terry’s Chocolate Orange (with popping candy) packaging at him. And then Bilbo joins in the fight. It’s notable that in the book Bilbo doesn’t kill anything until Mirkwood (after An Unexpected Journey ends) and in the climactic Battle of Five Armies gets hit on the head at the beginning and doesn’t fight at all.

Despite Bilbo’s best efforts, Thorin is grievously wounded (another thing made up) and all looks lost, but lo and behold, Gandalf Makes Him Better! That’s all right then!

Well, no it’s not, because I can see a major plot hole approaching fast when Thorin dies at the end. Why didn’t Gandalf heal him? Write your way out of that one, Peter Jackson, if you please.

I’m not saying there weren’t good things about An Unexpected Journey, because there were. The sky giants’ battle was glorious. Gollum’s scene (my favourite in the book) was excellent, although for someone who hasn’t read the books Bilbo comes off as a bit of a cheater. Even the addition of Radagast’s plot was enjoyable, if not strictly accurate – that, at least, was in keeping with the spirit of the original. And it was really wonderful that two of Tolkien’s original dwarf songs found their way in.

I think my disappointment with An Unexpected Journey boils down to 2 main points. Firstly, it’s too long and too repetitive. Watch enough battles and eventually they all run into one. And it really wasn’t necessary for the dwarves’ supper party at Bag End to be so long. Secondly, and this comes from the first point in some ways, it misses the spirit of the original. Jackson is too preoccupied with the links to The Lord of the Rings. He’s too conscious that this is the Prequel to the Cracks of Doom. As a result, the film is too big, too epic, too ambitious for its own good. It’s not Tolkien’s story about a little hobbit on a journey through a mysterious land any more. It’s become something else entirely. And it could have been wonderful.

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