Dec 19, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) / back, there, again

directed by Peter Jackson / starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis, etc...

SPOILER ALERT! I probably can't keep my mouth shut about some spoilery things.

"I'm looking for someone to share in an adventure."

I just got back from Middle Earth. I chose to return in 2D. Unfortunately there seemed to be something wrong in the sound system of this particular Middle Earth, and I was constantly hoping for a magical remote to turn the volume up, up, up. It was difficult to get lost in the world of Middle Earth when all the time I could hear grasping and popcorn chewing and some annoying teenages giggling and burping in the back row. But, Middle Earth is full of obstacles and foes, and part of the journey is to fight them off; shut the disturbances out, and just enjoy the biggest nostalgia trip of the decade.

And that's what the first part of the Hobbit trilogy was. And not just for me; for all the audience and, I can imagine, for most of the cast and crew, too. So what if the whole movie rides on the success of The Lord of the Rings. These movies aren't made to top LotR. LotR can't be topped. They are made because every single person in the audience smiles whenever they hear the Shire theme, and because seeing Gandalf again seems like meeting an old friend, and because everyone gets chills when they hear the familiar cough of Gollum and see those eyes flickering in the shadows.

I went to the movies today with very few expectations. Of course, this has been a very expected journey, and I've been following the rocky road that the making of The Hobbit has been, especially in the beginning. But there was amazingly little hype, for me. I haven't read The Hobbit. Because me and Tolkien don't have the smoothest of histories. I took me three years and three restarts and a promise on my eternal soul (=New Year resolution) to wade through The Lord of the Rings trilogy. So I haven't yet found the courage to try and tackle LotR's little brother, even though it would surely be a much less painful experience. Because of the less intimidating length of the book. And I'll read The Hobbit. Maybe I make the promise as soon as this New Year's Eve.

So, I went to the movies not knowing what to expect. Well, strike that, I did know kind of what to expect. I knew this would not be like Lord of the Rings. I knew it would be lighter, less epic, less dark, and quite frankly, not as good. Like many others, I assume, I always just looked at this as a wonderful chance to go back to Middle Earth; like I said, a huge nostalgia trip. Comparing The Hobbit to LotR will only lead to dissatisfaction, unless you do it in the spirit of nostalgia. Which I will do. A bit later.

Now, I will discuss the films in two sections. In The Hobbit, there was some old, familiar stuff, and then there was new stuff. There's no doubt about which stuff I liked more. But I will discuss both.

New Stories, Faces, Places, Discoveries

Unsurprisingly, I was not as interested in the new characters, places, and their storylines, as I was in the old gang, and all the talk and events referring to what would go down in sixty years. Yet, I did get a little giddy when we travelled on the map (oh, the map, I love you, map!), and got introduced to whole new places and new peoples and new history of Middle Earth! Like, oh, I never knew what was going on on this side of the map! The new cities were quite cool, looking distinctively Middle Earth-esque, but still different from everything else we've seen before.

I cannot say there were any new characters with the potential to rise to the prestigious company of my ultimate Middle Earth favorites. There were a lot of dwarves, but few I can tell apart in my head, and even fewer that I can remember by name. There is Gimli's old man, Gloin, who shares the same hair with his son. There is Thorin, aka If Aragorn Was A Dwarf. I mostly just found him a bit annoying. He doesn't have a sense of humor, and he's kind of a bore. I guess someone always has to be the solemn and boring leader. What else... One is called Kili, and if Thorin is Aragorn, he is Legolas. "Hello, everyone, I'm here to demonstrate that dwarves can be handsome, too!" He has a brother called Kali, I think. (Apparently it's Fili, not Kali. Haha. Ayways.) Then the chubby one, the comic relief dwarf. And the Cold Feet actor, and his character I actually liked, and he stood out for me a little. And then... a few others. Another potential New Year resolution would be to learn all the names of the dwarves.

New villains. There was the disgusting pile of fat that was definitely inspired by Jabba the Hut. He even had the annoying, giggling little sidekick. The big white orc was a bit boring, perhaps mostly because he had to do with Thorin's story, and I'm just not really into that. Though he looked cool in the light of the fire, his scars all red and ugly. Also, the dragon's eye was very nicely CGI'ed.

Finally, a familiar character, with a new face. I haven't heard any arguments about this: Martin Freeman is the perfect young Bilbo! I love Peter Jackson for being so determined to get him for the part. He fitted so well in the hobbit feet and the hair that he didn't feel like a new face at all, but rather someone we've always known. Freeman was born to play a hobbit. Bravo. And the young Bilbo is such a lovable, relable character, and it's such a joy to see him grow into the hero we all know him to be.

"The years haven't been kind to us, my dear Frodo. You are chubby and defiled, and I just look waxy."

Back to the Future

They don't keep repeating it for nothing: The Hobbit really did feel like going back home, in many ways. Familiar faces. Familiar places. Familiar swords. The Ring. Familiar lines (Gandalf just loves calling his friends 'fools'). Familiar feelings and moods. The map. Familiar landscapes. Familiar music.

It is strange how much joy a little melody can arise in a person. Or not that strange, if the melody is the Shire theme and the person is a LotR fan. Even though the new theme music was very good, I just loved that they'd brought back so many pieces from the best film score in the world. It was wonderful, hearing a familiar tune and instantly knowing which feelings you should be feeling in that particular moment. I love you, Howard Shore.

Seeing Frodo again was perhaps the comeback that I was most delightened by. It was crazy enough, watching one of the production videos where Elijah Wood talks about walking to the set of Shire for the first time, when he was 18. "I'm 30 now", he says, standing there in his full Frodo costume, looking almost exactly like he did back when the teenager me fell for those big blue eyes and put up pictures of them all around her room. Just... can't process how weird and cool and scary and wonderful it is. And then, seeing Frodo wear those familiar clothes, putting up the "party business" sign, and then grapping a book and saying that he'll go and surprise Gandalf and doesn't want to be late... It's almost too neat a way to connect the film to its predessedor, but I didn't mind one bit. It was just damn awesome.

(It can be argued that Elijah Wood has finally gotten a bit sturdier, and lost some of that wide-eyed innocence that was so charming in his original performance of Frodo. I'll allow him that. He's a friggin' 30-year-old hulk of a man now, even though for me he'll be a Bambi-eyed 18-year-old for all eternity.)

I'd say the scenes with Gollum were my favorites in the whole movie. It's just endlessly bewildering what the genius of Andy Serkis teaming up with some kick-ass technology can do. And we thought the CGI was awesome ten years ago? Well it's even better now. Gollum just looks insanely good. The riddles and the inner monologues of Gollum/Smeagol, and the Ring, and the damn amazing moment when Bilbo holds the Sting on Gollum's throat, about to finish him off, and Gollum looks so sad and confused and beaten, and we hear Gandalf's words in our heads ("True courage is about not knowing when to take a life, but when to spare one.") and remember the conversation Frodo and Gandalf had in Moria, about Bilbo's pity, and how his decision not to kill Gollum will influence the lives of many, and it's just so cool. Oh, Gollum. He's such a masterpiece of a character, and I feel for him so much I'd give him a hug if he wasn't so disgusting.

Galadriel is still the most beautiful thing ever. The feminist in me will resist the temptation to bitterly point out that she was the only female chacater in the whole movie, next to a few harp-playing female elves, and she only showed up for five minutes in the middle of a monstrously long movie. Oh well, that's how Tolkien rolled, so I guess I can't complain. She stopped by and was the most beautiful moment in the movie, and that'll have to do.

Gandalf and Ian McKellen deserve all the praise in the world. Elrond knows headgear is always in fashion. And I don't know if there is anything as legendary as Christopher Lee. The man just radiates legendary.
The old gang back together. Literally, they're all really old.

Should I have fun and play a critic for a moment? The story of An Unexpected Journey wasn't very coherent. There was so much random, seemingly unconnected stuff. Like, all of a sudden I'm looking at a brown wizard reviving a hedgehog. Maybe for Tolkienists it makes sense, but I'm just confused. Instead of a clear story arc, there was one action scene after the other. Oh, fighting rock monster giants. 'Kay. The weird thing is, I wasn't the least bit bored, not once. It didn't feel like two and a half, almost three hours.

And really, not having read the book, I don't know what they could've done better. Sure, they could've spent the entire time in the cave with Gollum, or travelled forward in time and went to hang out with teenage Merry and Pippin, but I don't think that's what happens in the book. But, again, there is not use comparing The Hobbit to the Lord of the Rings. The story is so much smaller in The Hobbit. This is not about the fate of the world as they know it. This is just a little adventure. The lighter mood allows more humor, more slapstick, more burps, more songs, less anxiety, less death, less tragedy, less Oscars. I went to the cinema for a huge fix of nostalgia, and what I got was exactly that. It is clear from the outcome how much Peter Jackson loves the Middle Earth he's created. In case the Mayans were right, I won't mind if this is the last movie I ever saw.

...I hope they're wrong, though. Because I need to go to New Zealand. So bad. Seriously. Just give me an excuse and I'll go. Money, too. Please. I also can't wait for Christmas holiday and my traditional Extended Edition marathon. At least that is something I can make happen. I have to catch up on the Hobbit production videos, too. I think there are a few I haven't yet seen.

Part two is a year away, and I'm okay with that. The thought of a year's worth of waiting doesn't make me too anguished. I'll be very happy to see the second part, of course, and return to the wonderful world of Middle Earth again. Don't we get to see Orlando, too, next?

I really want to go on an adventure now! Might start with an unexpected journey to the corner shop.

"Home is now behind you. The world is ahead."