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“My dear Frodo, you once asked me if I had told you everything there was to know about my adventures. And while I can honestly say I have told you the truth, I may not have told you all of it.”

-Bilbo Baggins, opening lines

I’m going to start this review with a very controversial statement, one that will most likely turn anyone who reads this away from my blog for good and leave it open to hordes of trolls, orcs and the like –

JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings sucks.

“Kill the geek! Kill the geek!”

Ooh, good timing, fellas! Now please put down the battering ram and let me explain.

I know these books are revered in nerd culture and literature circles around the world, but I didn’t grow up reading them. I can’t even think of a time before the Peter Jackson films where even I knew of their existence. My boyfriend, on the other hand, has. Remember how I said in my Wreck-It Ralph review that he opened the door to a lot of new things for me? Lord of the Rings was one of them. Having watched the Peter Jackson films with him (both the theatrical and extended cuts), I can swear on the shards of Narsil that they are among the greatest movies ever put on the big screen. It took something so massive and intricate that I couldn’t access it and put me right in the middle of the action. Every edit, addition and change was made to service the story and medium perfectly. I was able to get invested in these many characters and their mighty quest. The effects are a fantastic blend of both practical and digital methods that still hold up; Gollum alone is one of the best examples of modern film technology, not to mention he’s one great, tragic, flawed character. These movies may be long, but they have to be in order to get this epic story right, and half the time you barely notice you’ve been sitting on your butt for three hours because you’re so enveloped in everything happening on screen.

When fans began voicing their hopes for a movie based on the prequel to the Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, I could see why. I wanted to visit Middle-Earth again, go on a new quest, and see where it all began just as much as they did. Of course, the project was in limbo for quite a long time – long before the Lord of the Rings films were made, in fact. Peter Jackson originally approached New Line Cinema with making The Hobbit into a movie first (which makes sense seeing how that book was written first), but they insisted on him doing Lord of the Rings…in a single movie (because the last time that happened turned out so well). Jackson rightly told them it was a stupid idea and insisted on splitting the trilogy up with one movie per book. Now Jackson’s only work up until that point had been some low-grade high-gore horror movies but he had the potential to make something great and really came through for the fans (and won quite a few Oscars in the process), and they clamored for him to get back in the director’s chair for The Hobbit. At first he declined because you only have to look at the behind the scenes stuff to know how grueling directing three movies back to back is. Guillermo del Toro stepped in for a time but for whatever reason stepped back out again. There was also uncertainty as to whether or not Ian McKellen or any of the actors from the previous films would return to play their roles when, or even if the time came. It was a period of long, languishing uncertainty for the Tolkienites, until Peter Jackson decided to put aside the ranger and become who he was meant to be. With him back at the helm, the people rejoiced, and I decided to pick up JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit to prepare myself for what was to come…

…and got so bored with it I kept losing my place and nearly fell asleep eight times.

I’m not gonna lie, The Hobbit is a slog to get through (for me at least). Tolkien introduces a bunch of characters with very little actual characterization, choosing instead to focus on minutiae such as landscapes, food, robe and hood colors, food, proper elf, dwarf and hobbit decorum, food, multiple names that multiple characters have for whatever reason, food, and sitting around doing nothing until they’re suddenly thrust into an action scene that’s hard to visualize because there’s so much going on…and did I mention FOOD?! I think I knew more about what kind of jam each dwarf had for breakfast every morning than anything about the dwarves themselves. With the exception of Bilbo and Gandalf I couldn’t tell any member of the company apart from each other. From what I’ve gathered, Tolkien at the last minute tried to pass the book off as a children’s bedtime story in case nobody took it seriously. Well I’m sure it worked because any kid would fall asleep from boredom from having to listen to this drawn-out tale (at one reading Tolkien did, someone in the crowd actually shouted “Not another fucking elf!” when one entered the story. I swear I did not make that up). I eventually gave up on the book and decided to wait for the films to come out to see what happened – and unlike the book, they did not disappoint. Quite the opposite, in fact…

…I think I may like The Hobbit movies, the first one at least, more than Lord of the Rings.

Let me finish, guys...

Let me finish…

Like I said before, the Lord of the Rings trilogy is great. You can’t just pop it in and leave it running like any movie however. I feel like sitting down to watch them has to be a special occasion, not just because you have to devote a big part of your day to watching at least one of the films, but because of the emotional roller coaster it puts you on (I’ve watched Return of the King three times with my boyfriend, and he can tell you how much of a sobbing wreck I was at the end of each of those viewings). The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is one I’m totally fine with putting on in the background but can still get the most from it. The stakes aren’t quite as high as the previous films, but there’s still plenty of drama and action, and at times glimpses of humor and a lighter tone that I think Tolkien was trying to get across when he said this supposed to be for kids. The atmosphere and mood puts you back in Middle Earth, taking you to places both familiar and new. Plus, it managed to do what the book didn’t – it made the characters MEMORABLE. I remember each dwarf’s name and look and personality, as basic as some of those personalities are. Every one of them gets at least one moment in the films that allow them to shine, and even if one of their names happens to slip my mind, I can still point to one and remember whom they are. Case in point – here is the company of dwarves as seen in the Rankin-Bass version of The Hobbit.

the-hobbit-remastered-deluxe-edition-screen-shot-7And here they are from the Peter Jackson films.

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Now look away from the screen for a bit. Which set sticks out in your mind more?

I’m going to pretend you have the same answer as I do and say I thought so.

So, if I may amend my previous statement, JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit suck.

Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit do not.

We open our film in the home of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, who lives in a home in the ground in a part of Middle Earth known as The Shire. Hobbits are people that are slightly smaller than humans and don’t wear shoes due to large hairy feet (yet surprisingly nothing’s ever come up in any of the books or films about them getting splinters or cuts from walking around barefoot all the time). They enjoy the simple comforts of home and tend to not get themselves involved in the doings of the rest of the world. Bilbo, who is approaching is 111th birthday, starts writing a book based on an adventure he went on many years ago, which he narrates to us, beginning with a brief history of the dwarf kingdom of Erebor. I have to say we’re off to a promising start. The dramatic flashback and narration is similar to how Galadriel’s narration kicked off things in The Fellowship of the Ring and just as effective. Also Ian Holm, who plays Bilbo, looks as though he hasn’t aged a day since he played him nearly ten years ago. Actually, is it me or does he look younger?

The one on the left is from Fellowship of the Ring (2001). The one on the right is from An Unexpected Journey. Seriously, would you have known if you hadn't read the caption?

The one on the left is from Fellowship of the Ring (2001). The one on the right is from An Unexpected Journey. Seriously, would you have known if you hadn’t read the caption?

Anyway, years ago Erebor was one of the most prosperous kingdoms of Middle Earth due to the dwarves’ successful mining operations in the Lonely Mountain and commerce with the nearby city of Dale. It’s ruled by the dwarf king Thror and everything is going absolutely peachy…that is until the miners come across a fabulous jewel hidden deep in the mountain, the Arkenstone. Thror takes it as a sign that his rule and lineage is ensured and has every race of Middle Earth come pay homage to him. This includes the elf king Thranduil.

Now before we go any further, I’d like to point out that the version I’m reviewing is the director’s cut, meaning more scenes are added that can completely change another scene’s context. This is the case with this scene. In the theatrical and general dvd release, we jump from Thranduil approaching Thror on his throne to Thror enjoying his lavish riches. A few minutes later, when the dwarves turn to Thranduil for help after Smaug attacks, he just turns away from them for no real reason, making him look like a jerk (more so than he already is in these movies). In the extended cut, we see why he does that – apparently Thror promised to give Thranduil a rare treasure that was promised to his people, a chest full of diamonds that glitter like stars, but at the last minute Thror got greedy and kept the diamonds for himself. As Bilbo says, each race tells the story differently, but the one thing that can be agreed upon is that it started the eternal petty conflict between elves and dwarves. And things just get better from there.

Thror begins to amass his wealth and becomes more consumed by the sickness of greed, which worries his grandson, Thorin (Richard Armitage).

“Yesterday he tried jumping into his gold from a diving board. Claimed he saw a duck do it once. Now he’s been in the hospital for six weeks saying nothing but “Woo-hoo woo-hoo!” “

Now the moments in Erebor are atmospheric, and that one look Thorin gives says everything without actually saying anything at all. But as good as the writing and narration has been so far, this is where we get one line that is a major hiccup. Sit yourselves down for this one, are you ready? Good. Proceed.

“And where sickness thrives…bad things will follow.

Wow. No, seriously, wow. I know this is something so minor to get hung up over, but Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh have won Oscars for their screenplays in the previous Lord of the Rings films, so I’m a bit flabbergasted as to how this was the best they could come up with. I have to stop the movie and go “Wait, WHAT?!” most of the time when I watch it that’s how much it jars me out of the experience. I’m sure somewhere George Lucas is nodding in approval, and as we’ve seen in the past couple of decades, that’s not always a good thing.

Well after that Shakesperian masterwork a dragon by the name of Smaug comes to claim the treasures of Erebor to himself, destroying Dale in the process just for kicks. Even though we know we won’t really be seeing him until the next film (much like Gollum in Fellowship), they do a great job of teasing what he looks like. There’s a shot at of Erebor’s main entrance at the start of this scene where a huge red snout enters from the right only to reveal that it’s just a kite shaped like a dragon. When Smaug does come, we hear the roaring and see the flames, the massive stomping of clawed feet and dwarves and humans getting thrown around and burnt alive. You have to give the filmmakers credit for managing to keep something so massive just out of sight without downplaying how much destruction he’s causing.

Thror runs to his throne to get the Arkenstone but Smaug has beaten him to it and it’s lost in the chaos. Thorin has to drag him away to keep him from imitating Scrooge McDuck again. The dwarves flee the scene and see that Thranduil and his armies happen to be passing by. Thorin calls to them for help, but Thranduil swishes his long pretty hair and turns his back on them.

He may be a douche, but you've got to admit, he's a stylish douche.

He may be a douche, but you’ve got to admit, he’s a stylish douche.

Thus begins the dwarves’ many years of exile and wandering, never truly settling in one place, always dreaming of going home but never forgetting the fire and agony of the day it was stolen from them. (And yes, there are a lot of parallels between them and the Hebrews’ exile from their homeland, but Tolkien stated that was purely coincidental). Thorin spends his days among the humans taking work where he can get it, the years of toil and humiliation hardening the former prince’s heart. Bilbo wraps up his story…and then begins telling the actual story of the book (and movie we’re watching). He starts with the famous lines of the book (“In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit, etc.”) but his nephew, Frodo (Elijah Wood) walks in on him.

“What are you doing here Frodo?”

“A very brief cameo.”

“…Me too.”

Also, my thoughts on how Elijah Wood looks are the same as my thoughts on Ian Holm. If you can, stop and compare every single returning cast member then and now. I swear they all have the same strange case that Benjamin Button has.

Frodo reminds Bilbo that today’s his big birthday party and remarks on how odd he’s been acting recently (I’m sure that his behavior totally not going to affect anything we see at the start of Fellowship of the Ring). Frodo goes off to surprise Gandalf the Gray, a wizard and old friend of Bilbo who’s coming to the Shire for the party. Bilbo just sits back with his pipe and begins to reminisce, and it’s here that we finally get our full title for the film. (And only fourteen minutes in. Well, it beats waiting to see it at the end credits.)

We flashback eighty or so years to a younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman) enjoying his pipe on a sunny morning. His smoking session is interrupted by the arrival of Gandalf (Ian McKellen). Man, it is good to see Gandalf again. Ian McKellen stepped back into the role as if nothing changed. His exchange with Bilbo is pretty humorous as he asks what exactly Bilbo’s “Good morning” pertains to.

I'm sure he'd get along great with Uncle Grandpa. Yes, I just referenced Uncle Grandpa in a review of a film based on one of the great works of fantasy literature. Just add it to the pile of other sins I've accumulated so far in this post.

I’m sure he’d get along great with Uncle Grandpa. Yes, I referenced Uncle Grandpa in a review of a film based on one of the great works of fantasy literature. Just add it to the pile of other sins I’ve accumulated so far in this post.

Gandalf explains why he’s here; he’s looking for someone to join him on an adventure and wants Bilbo to come along. Bilbo fulfills Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey Step 2-A-B, the Refusal of the Call, by politely declining (whew, hopefully that reference cancels the previous one out). Gandalf lets Bilbo know exactly who he is and Bilbo recognizes him as the wizard who always came to the Shire and put on some spectacular fireworks during the summer when he was a child. “Well, it’s good to know you remember something about me,” muses Gandalf a bit morosely, “even if it is my fireworks.” Ian McKellen also infuses a lot of humor in this one line, mostly stemming the weariness of his age and just a hint of annoyance that he’s remembered for something so trivial. It’s like if someone who spent several years making random Disney mashups on Youtube and developed a cult following decided to get into writing movie reviews and only eight of her fans remained interested while the rest just sat and waited for the next video to come out…I’m gonna go eat some ice cream.

Despite Gandalf’s insistence, Bilbo puts his big hairy foot down and wishes him a firm good morning and goes inside. He doesn’t realize that Gandalf has left a shining mark on his front door.

“He’ll never see those assassins coming, heh heh heh.”

After an extended edition scene that shows more of Hobbiton and Bilbo going to market, we see him about to enjoy a nice hearty dinner before the doorbell rings. It’s a rather burly and brutish dwarf, Dwalin (Graham Tavish).

“Are you Bilbo Baggins? Gandalf has paid me to exterminate you and bring back your feet as proof.”

“Uhhh, no. I’m…Otho Sackville-Baggins. Yeah. Bilbo lives down the road. You should totally kill him and his spoon-stealing whore Lobelia.”

Dwalin invites himself in and helps himself to Bilbo’s dinner. The doorbell rings again and this time it’s Santa!

the-hobbit10Nah, it’s another dwarf named Balin (Ken Stott) who’s significantly more polite that Dwalin was but comes in anyway, making Bilbo feel very confused. Apparently the two dwarves know each other and they both start raiding the pantry, and Bilbo doesn’t quite know how to get them to leave. The doorbell rings again and I’m starting to sense a pattern here.

Oops, did I say pattern? I meant the screams of a thousand raving fangirls.

Oops, did I say pattern? I meant the screams of a thousand raving fangirls.

These are Fili and Kili (Dean O’Gorman and Aidan Turner) who join Dwalin and Balin in setting up the dining room for “everyone”. Bilbo is nearing his wit’s end and with more knocks on the door meaning more company on the way, he tries to get whoever’s there to leave…only to open the door and have eight dwarves tumble on to the welcome mat in a pile. Gandalf is there with them as well. This was a scene that’s remained almost virtually in tact from the book except there each of the dwarves arrived separately. I think the film handled it better seeing as how having them all enter this way would get old fast. Instead we have the classic comedic Rule of Three and usher in the rest of the dwarves at once so we can continue the story.

The dwarves make a general mess of things and completely clear out the pantry but they’re clearly having fun and the feast they make looks absolutely delicious. Even Gandalf gets in on it. But Bilbo’s ok with them too at this point, right Bilbo?

Geez, no need to get touchy, I was only asking…

Something else I’d like to point out that completely blew my mind when I learned it is that Ian McKellen filmed this scene completely alone on a separate soundstage. The way they integrated him interacting with everyone is stunning because it looks like he’s in the same room with them, not to mention all the actors involved are so good at their jobs that they fool you into believing they’re talking to each other. It wasn’t easy for Ian at first, however. Being trapped in front of a green screen and forced to talk to tennis balls for hours isn’t good for anyone’s psyche and it made him question if he could really pull it off. To cheer him up and help him get into character, the cast and crew snuck into his tent and decorated it with Lord of the Rings mementos and other things to show that they cared (awwwww).

Bilbo asks Gandalf just what are all these dwarves doing here when they start tossing the dishes and cutlery around. Bilbo tries to get them to stop but they playfully tease him further by adding a song to their game.

“Ho hum, the tune is dumb, the words don’t mean a thing…”

One of the criticisms this movie got upon its release is the inclusion of songs. Tolkien liked to include made-up tunes in his books to breathe life into his world, like these songs would be something you’d hear someone hum as they walk down the street. This song, as well as some of the others you’ll find throughout the movie, are taken directly from the book itself (as well as some of the other LOTR books), so you can’t complain that they’re deviating from the source material all that much. Plus, I know there are fans out there who would have thrown a fit if they didn’t put at least two songs in. The songs aren’t even bad or distracting at all. I rather like them, and to those of you who complain that the original Lord of the Rings trilogy never had any musical moments, I say BULL –

– FUCKING –

– SHIT.

Much to Bilbo’s surprise, the dwarves have all the dishes in a neat pile on the table without a single one broken or chipped. As they share a good laugh there’s a powerful knock at the door and everyone falls silent – HE’s here.

“Well, quite the glittering assembly, Gandalf. Royalty, nobility, the gentry, and – how quaint, even the rabble.”

“Well, quite the glittering assembly, Gandalf. Royalty, nobility, the gentry, and – how quaint, even the rabble.”

Gandalf introduces Bilbo to the company’s leader, Thorin Oakenshield. Thorin isn’t too impressed with Bilbo, especially after he asks what kind of weapons he specializes in. Bilbo mentions he’s quite good at Conkers, which Thorin scoffs at (I’m betting he’s just jealous because he never got around to beating the Great Mighty Poo). The dwarves and Gandalf gather around for the real reason why they came here – to start planning their mission. Smaug has lain dormant for a long, long time, and certain signs have appeared revealing a window of opportunity to take back Erebor and lay claim to the treasure within.

There are a few snags, however – none of the other dwarf clans Thorin has visited wanted to join him, meaning it’s just the thirteen dwarves plus Bilbo and Gandalf going on this quest. They’re loyal and steadfast but mostly inexperienced when it comes to fighting a twelve-ton monstrosity (even Gandalf admits he’s never faced a dragon before). Thorin keeps the group from fighting amongst themselves by going into a rousing speech (hey, it’s Lord of the Rings; gotta have at least three of these speeches before the credits roll). Gandalf also offers some hope in the form of a key entrusted to him by Thorin’s father until the time came to return it to his son. When used at the right time it will unlock a hidden door that will lead them inside the Lonely Mountain.

This is where Bilbo comes in – by Gandalf’s reasoning, Smaug will be familiar with the scent of dwarves and men and will attack on instinct, but he’s unfamiliar with hobbits, thus Bilbo will be able to sneak past him easily and do some burgling (but how do you know Smaug has never come across a hobbit BEFORE he attacked Erebor, Gandalf? That’s just plain wishful thinking right there!)

Gandalf hands over a contract for Bilbo to sign, granting him his share of the treasure and also the usual legal mumbo jumbo about next of kin and the company not being held responsible for death or dismemberment, blah blah blah. This understandably worries Bilbo, and the “reassurance” of one of the more comical dwarves, Bofur (James Nesbit) doesn’t help either. At the mention of “furnace with wings”, Bilbo gives up and swoons.

“Well, our burglar’s dead now. I knew we should have asked that Gamgee fellow’s kid to come instead.”

“Well, our burglar’s dead now. I knew we should have asked that Gamgee fellow’s kid instead.”

Gandalf tries talking to Bilbo himself to convince him to go, but doesn’t have much luck. He brings up his strong-willed Took heritage and mentions how one of Bilbo’s great-uncles singlehandedly defeated the Goblin King and coincidentally invented the game of golf at the same time. Bilbo points out how Gandalf clearly made that up, to which Gandalf replies, “Well, even the best stories sometimes could use a little embellishment”.

Yeeeeeah, I see what you did there, Jackson. Don’t try to deny it. That’s your “subtle” way of justifying the changes to the story that you made for these movies…and I hate to admit it but so far it’s working.

Bilbo remains adamant in his refusal and it seems the company will have to continue on their own. Balin laments to Thorin that they don’t stand much of a chance, but Thorin tells him that he’d rather journey side by side with the few who showed him loyalty than an army of the greatest warriors. This is a short but very touching scene. In the Erebor flashback we see Balin alongside Thorin through the good and bad times serving as an advisor and close friend. All these years later their loyalty to each other hasn’t changed at all and they still consider each other family.

This leads into the film’s most famous moment, the one played in the teaser trailer that got everyone hooked. The dwarves stand in the glow of the fireplace and begin to harmonize. Bilbo listens with quiet awe. In a deep, somber tone, Thorin sings of the Misty Mountains and the treasure that lies beyond them in the place they once called home. The dwarves slowly join in as the song illustrates Smaug’s flaming destruction. Embers from the fire fly up from the chimney into the night sky like stars. Like Luke gazing into the binary sunset, this one scene shows everything that the film aspires to be – an adventure full of peril and glory with something more meaningful than riches waiting for them at the end.

Bilbo wakes up the next morning to find his home quiet and empty. The dwarves have left him behind (though they were courteous enough to completely clean up the house. That sure was nice of them.) So now Bilbo is alone, left to live out the rest of his life completely planned with no danger or anything out of the ordinary to interrupt his routine. He should be happy, but after that one small taste of beckoning adventure the previous night, he quickly finds the silence and loneliness a bit confining. He then sees that the dwarves have left the contract on the table.

In a flash, Bilbo is out the door and running through the hills of Hobbiton like an excited child accompanied by an up-tempo version of the Shire theme. When a curious neighbor asks where Bilbo’s off to, he joyously cries out “I’m going on an adventure!”

the-hobbit25Bilbo catches up to the group with his papers in order. He’s welcomed with open arms and we get a funny bit where we find that the dwarves were betting on whether or not Bilbo would join them. Gandalf, who states that he never lost faith in Bilbo, happens to be the one most of the dwarves are passing their money to.

It seems like everything is going without a hitch until Bilbo realizes he forgot his handkerchief and wants to turn around. Gandalf says he’s sorry but this is a one-way trip. The world is waiting for them.

“So, it’s gonna be one hell of a walk to the Lonely Mountain. How long do you think it will take?”

“So, it’s gonna be one hell of a walk to the Lonely Mountain. How long do you think it will take?”

“Walk?! You think we’d do something as ridiculous and tiring as WALK all the way across Middle Earth to reach our destination? We’ve got ponies and we’re USING them, dammit!”

“Walk?! You think we’d do something as ridiculous and tiring as WALK all the way across Middle Earth to reach our destination? We’ve got ponies and we’re USING them, dammit!”

“I don’t know, there’s nothing wrong with a nice walk to –“

“I don’t know, there’s nothing wrong with a nice walk to –“

“When it’s your quest, Gandalf, you can walk. But on mine, PONIES.”

“When it’s your quest, Gandalf, you can walk. But on mine, PONIES.”

We pan over some gorgeous shots of the company traveling through the greenery of New Zealand Middle Earth and I’ve got to say I’m glad this adventure is finally getting started. So what’s the first thing we see our heroes do?

…Camp out for the night.

…Okay.

Distant howls penetrate the air, and the dwarves recognize them as the sound of orcs out hunting. Fili and Kili try to scare Bilbo for their amusement, but Thorin knows orcs are no laughing matter and berates his nephews for treating their raids lightly. (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Fili and Kili are Thorin’s nephews. Whoops.)

This leads to a popular cliché most movies have that never seem to go out of fashion – THE PAST. In THE PAST, our main character has a dark, tragic backstory that is eventually revealed to our innocent hero and us. As Thorin broods not too far off, Balin reveals why Thorin holds such a grudge against orcs – after being evicted from Erebor, the dwarves tried moving to the mines of Moria (which some of you might recognize as the place with the Balrog and cave troll from Fellowship) Unfortunately, they found the place overrun with orcs and of course, fighting ensued. Things didn’t look too good for the dwarves, especially since they were up against the most vile and bloodthirsty of orcs, Azog the Defiler.

the-hobbit26

Confession – nearly a year passed since I watched Unexpected Journey again after seeing it in theaters and since during that time I couldn’t remember Azog’s name, I just referred to him as “Lord Voldem-Orc”.

The more astute of you may notice that Azog the Albino isn’t a practical creature like most of the orcs are. This is because his original makeup design was deemed too similar to the other orcs around him and Peter Jackson wanted Azog to stand out visually. Since time grew too short for them to make an entirely new prosthetic and costume, he’s good ol’-fashioned motion-capture performed and voiced by Manu Bennett. Rather than piss and moan like far too many fanboys have, I’m going to say he looks perfectly fine and leave it at that. Sure, there are times when he looks CGI, but hey, it’s still good CGI (WETA may excel at practical effects and makeup, but they don’t know how to do bad CGI), and the acting in the scene is good enough that I can buy that he’s actually there.

Azog has sworn to wipe out Thorin’s bloodline (because how else is an orc gonna get his familicide merit badge?) and starts by beheading Thror, Thorin’s grandfather, right in front of him. Thorin does not take this well. Neither does his father, Thrain, who’s driven mad with grief and disappears, with most people believing him dead.

“Then show me his body.”

It was at that desperate hour when Azog and Thorin clashed that there came a ray of hope – with no sword or shield to defend himself, Thorin picked up the thing closest to him, a huge oak branch, and managed to beat the orc back with it. At just the right moment, Thorin grabbed his sword and chopped off Azog’s arm. With that blow, Thorin rallied the dwarves and they were able to win the battle.

“THIS! IS! MORIA!!”

“THIS! IS! MORIA!!”

Balin finishes his story by saying even though the dead outnumbered the living that day, Thorin proved that he was one worthy of being called king. Thorin turns to face him and sees all the dwarves are standing in awe of him.

Bilbo then asks what happened to Azog and Thorin brusquely tells him that the pale orc was dragged into Moria where he died of his wound.

“Then show me his – hello? Are you even listening to me?

“Then show me his – hello? Are you even listening to me?”

To emphasize Azog being completely 100% deader-than-dead and in no possible way being alive, we see the leader of the same orc pack from spying on them and telling his underlings to inform “the Master” that they’ve found the “Dwarf-scum”.

The company continues traveling in the rain the next day. When the dwarves pester Gandalf to do something about the weather, he shuts them up good by telling them to find another wizard if they’re so upset about it. Bilbo asks if there are any other wizards and Gandalf mentions a few – Saruman the White, two blue ones that the Tolkien estate won’t allow him to mention, and Radagast the Brown. This leads to our introduction to Radagast, played by the 7th Doctor himself, Sylvester McCoy.

To my knowledge, Radagast never appeared in The Hobbit and is only mentioned in passing in some of the other novels, but it doesn’t make a difference to me so long as he’s a good character who contributes something – and he does, despite what some nitpickers may say. How he’s portrayed here is just another thing the hardcore fans love to bash. Radagast is a touch more eccentric than Gandalf, lives in the woods and prefers the company of animals to people. He also drives around on a sled pulled by rabbits, and I don’t care what anyone says, that is AWESOME.

At the moment Radagast is concerned because his forest is growing sick and dying. On seeing a cute hedgehog friend also affected, he takes him back to his home and tries to heal him to no avail.

-“Before I die...I have to tell you…on your face…you’ve…got…bird…shhhh…..”

-“Before I die…I have to tell you…on your face…you’ve…got…bird…shhhh…..”

“What? What have I got?? Don’t die on me, dammit! Tell me!!”

“What? What have I got?? Don’t die on me, dammit! Tell me!!”

Radagast slowly realizes this must be the work of witchcraft instead of a natural illness and tries to break the curse over his friend with magic. At the same time, sinister leggy shadows creep over the house and try to break in. It’s a tense scene, but the faces McCoy makes while chanting…just look.

Few Tolkienites know that some of the Istari’s spells have to be performed while kicking yourself in the crotch multiple times.

Few Tolkienites know that some of the Istari’s spells have to be performed while kicking yourself in the crotch multiple times.

The magic and silly faces work and the hedgehog is saved. Radagast sees the creatures – giant spiders – as they scuttle away into the darker part of the forest and follows them on his rabbit sled to the old fortress of Dol Goldur.

“On Flopsy, on Mopsy, on Thumper and Peter!”

“On Flopsy, on Mopsy, on Thumper and Peter!”

The company comes across an abandoned ruin of a farmhouse, which Gandalf finds suspicious. Thorin wants to camp there for the night but Gandalf wisely thinks something’s not right and suggests they make for the elves’ place in Rivendell. Thorin’s view on elves hasn’t changed in the past fifty years, however, and he tells Gandalf to keep his opinions to himself. Frustrated, Gandalf goes off to have some me-time, leaving the company to their own business. We find Gandalf’s intuition wasn’t entirely off, however, as when Bilbo brings some food to Kili and Fili later, they reveal something has stolen some of their ponies – something BIG. They investigate and find they were taken by a group of three dumb trolls who plan on making them their next meal.

Fun fact: Tolkien had to settle for calling them Bert, Tom and William since Larry, Moe and Curly were already taken.

Fun fact: Tolkien had to settle for calling them Bert, Tom and William since Larry, Moe and Curly were already taken.

Kili and Fili aren’t too keen on telling their uncle this since they were supposed to be looking after the ponies and don’t want to get into even more trouble, but decide to leave the job of rescuing them to their burglar, disappearing the instant they say they’ll be right behind him (boy if I had a nickel for every time that happened during my sorority initiation).

This scene is one that I think is another further improvement from the book. Originally the company discovered the trolls from afar and just said “Yo Bilbo, you’re supposed to be a burglar, right? Go steal that troll’s pouch for no reason.” Bilbo tried, got caught, accidentally revealed the company’s existence to the trolls leading to them all being captured one by one when they decided to see what was taking him so long, and being saved at the last minute by Gandalf. Here we have an actual reason for Bilbo to try to step up and be a hero. The dwarves aren’t dicking around with him for laughs either. Fili and Kili are acting like kids who don’t want to disappoint their parents and want to cover this problem up before it gets even more out of hand, and after seeing how their uncle reacts when he’s disappointed in them I can understand why.

Bilbo gets caught trying to steal a knife to cut the horses loose when one of the trolls accidentally picks him up in place of a handkerchief and blows his nose on him (I apologize for the gross image). The trolls (played by three of the actors who also play the dwarves using mo-cap) are confused by the appearance of the “burglar-hobbit” but then start arguing if whether or not they can eat him too. That’s when all the dwarves come to the rescue brandishing their weapons and their badass theme music. The fight is a fun one and in the chaos Bilbo manages to free the ponies. He’s captured again, however, and the dwarves are forced to surrender in order to save him.

Half the dwarves are put on a gigantic spit while Bilbo and the rest are stuffed into sacks to await their doom. When one of the trolls drops that they have to hurry with their meal before sunrise comes and turns them to stone, Bilbo attempts to stall them. It takes the others a moment to catch on to what he’s doing when he tries giving them cooking tips, but Thorin notices and gets them to play along. It works, and Gandalf finally shows up and breaks a boulder overhead in two to hit the trolls with sunlight.

“YOU! SHALL NOT – oh wait, too soon.”

“YOU! SHALL NOT – oh wait, too soon.”

With the company freed, Gandalf and Thorin surmise that the trolls must have some kind of cave nearby to hide in during the daylight hours. They find it, along with a huge hoard of treasure and weapons that they decide to take with them (a few of the dwarves bury the treasure chest as a “future investment”). It’s here that Gandalf finds a small sword just the right size for Bilbo. He gives it to him along with some words of wisdom – true courage isn’t about knowing when to take a life, but when to spare one.

Radagast then bursts on to the scene desperate to tell Gandalf what he’s discovered in Dol Guldur…and is so excited he can’t remember what it is. To calm him down Gandalf lights him up and I’m really starting to think Middle Earth’s biggest problem isn’t dark overlords or savage orcs but drugs. We already have several members of the company and two of Middle Earth’s greatest wizards hooked on the stuff. The pipeweed business must be booming to the point where rival gangs are probably the ones who are really controlling the whole world behind closed doors. Not even The Shire is safe from their clutches; everyone barring the children smokes like a freaking chimney!

Sufficiently mellowed out, Radagast tells his tale – while inspecting the old ruins, he was attacked by a ghostly creature who left behind a sword belonging to the Witch-King of Angmar, one of the nine men who were corrupted by Sauron’s power through the rings he gave them long ago. Something else stirred in the darkness – a dark shapeless void that whispers in Black Speech and is controlling the dead – a being Radagast refers to as the Necromancer. Radagast gives the sword to Gandalf for safekeeping.

It’s then that there’s a howl in the distance, but it’s no wolf, it’s a Death Star a warg, meaning orcs aren’t too far behind. On top of that, all the ponies have fled, which means now they have to outrun the orcs and continue the journey on foot (oh well, it was nice while it lasted). Radagast volunteers to draw them off and manages to make his rabbit sled sound pretty badass (“These are Gundabad orcs, they will outrun you.” “These are Rhosgobel Rabbits. I’d like to see them try.”)

True to his word, Radagast does an amazing job distracting the orcs (what’d I tell you? Rabbit sled for the win) while Gandalf and the crew makes a run for it across some rocky plains. It isn’t until later they’re noticed and barely manage to defend themselves. Gandalf seemingly abandons them (yeah, he does this A LOT throughout the book for almost no reason; this is where I give credit to the embellishments made in the movies because each time they give a good explanation why) and they hide when they hear more supposedly approaching. Gandalf reappears, showing them that the crevice they’ve hidden in is in reality a secret passage to Rivendell.

Forget the Shire, why haven’t they built THIS place for tourists to visit yet?!

Forget the Shire, why haven’t they built THIS place for tourists to visit yet?!

Thorin isn’t happy that Gandalf had planned to lead them here all along, but Gandalf reminds them they have a map that could really use some good elf translation to help them find that secret door. Plus, what better place to get free hospitality than a freaking fantasy resort? Rivendell’s master, Lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving) arrives, having been out hunting the orcs that were pursuing them (his party was the one that appeared and scared the dwarves into hiding). It’s good to see another familiar face, and unlike in the previous films, we see a bit more of Elrond’s lighter side and his friendship with Gandalf. He offers the dwarves food and shelter, which, of course, they accept.

The small feast the elves throw for them is one of the more fun scenes, particularly in the extended edition. We know by now the dwarves aren’t the most sophisticated bunch and even after the party at Bilbo’s house it couldn’t be made more apparent here. They complain about the Legend of Zelda-esque music the elves playing, the vegetarian meals, and basically act like kids stuck at a boring dinner party while the grown-ups talk business. It’s here that we get a second with Kili that will play heavily into the future films – he makes an offhand remark about elf women and admitting that one of them is actually not too bad on the eyes. One of the dwarves then points out that the elf in question is in fact a man. They laugh and Kili tries to pass it off as a joke, but you can see he’s more than a bit embarrassed at his confession.

While this is going on, Elrond takes a look at the swords Gandalf and Thorin pilfered from the trolls and identifies them as Elf ones forged during the Goblin Wars, Glamdring the Foehammer and Orcrist the Goblin Cleaver. Bilbo wonders if his sword has an equally badass name but Balin tells him that all swords are named for their deeds in battle and his isn’t so much a sword as it is a letter opener or box cutter (hey, I’ve worked in an art supply store Balin, never underestimate how the power of a box cutter!)

Fed up with the serious atmosphere, Bofur gets up on the table and breaks into a drinking song (My boyfriend finds it hilarious that he’s standing in the exact spot where they keep the One Ring during the council in Fellowship). The tune is a catchy one again borrowed from the books and James Nesbit and the gang throws what little propriety they have out the window and have fun with it, much to everyone else’s bemusement. It’s hard not to get caught up in their merriment.

In the standard edition it seems like the dwarves stay the one night at Elrond’s, but in the director’s cut it’s more than a few days, and in that time they quickly overstay their welcome from emptying the wine cellar to (ugh) skinnydipping in the fountains. Again, I apologize for the scarring mental image. Just do what I do and try to think only of Richard Armitage, Dean O’Gorman and Aidan Turner doing it and that makes it slightly better.

Meanwhile, Bilbo explores the place and comes across some interesting artifacts.

“Hmm, interesting piece, but way too abstract. I don’t get Elf art.”

“Hmm, interesting piece, but way too abstract. I don’t get Elf art.”

He also sees a mural of a prince taking on what looks like a giant pin-cushion man in the heat of a huge battle. What catches Bilbo’s eye is that the gigantic mace-wielding knight is wearing a simple gold ring.

“Something about this feels very important somehow but I just can’t put my finger on it. Art just isn’t something that comes naturally to elves, does it?”

“Something about this feels very important somehow but I just can’t put my finger on it. Art just isn’t something that comes naturally to elves, does it?”

He doesn’t bring it up when he runs into Elrond while admiring the rest of Rivendell, but the two have a brief but meaningful conversation where Elrond invites Bilbo to stay instead of continuing the quest if he wishes it.

Gandalf eventually brings up the map to Elrond and he takes a look at it. It turns out part of the map is written in invisible ink which can only be read in the same moonlight as when it was written, and wouldn’t you know, that happens to be tonight! The map tells them the last light of Durin’s Day (the dwarves’ New Year and last day of autumn) will reveal where the keyhole is when the thrush knocks. Now that Elrond is made aware of the nature of their quest, he has some concerns about it. Waking a sleeping dragon could prove dangerous for all of Middle Earth, not to mention their quest seems to coincide with the sudden movements of creatures that once sided with the enemy.

Elrond talks to Gandalf about this in private and they are joined by other members of their council, the elf maid Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and the wizard Saruman the White (Christopher Lee). Again, it’s great to see these two, and I just LOVE the way Gandalf reacts when he finds out Saruman has showed up.

“Oh God, he’s behind me isn’t me? I hate that guy! Ok, be cool, Gandalf. He’s the head of your order, don’t screw it up -”

“Oh God, he’s behind me isn’t me? I hate that guy! Ok, be cool, Gandalf. He’s the head of your order, don’t screw it up -”

“Hey, Saruman! Whazzup! Long time no see, buddy!”

“Hey, Saruman! Whazzup! Long time no see, buddy!”

With introductions out of the way, they get down to business to defeat the Huns the possibility of another war beginning. Now here’s where I’m curious – Saruman is mostly “there’s nothing wrong going on here harrumph-harrumph” throughout the scene. Anyone who’s seen the original movies or read the books knows that Saruman sides with Sauron and turns evil, but where exactly does he start? Is he in genuinely in denial that something terrible is approaching or has he already begun his descent and is trying to cover himself up? Christopher Lee (God bless him) gives such a good performance that you could interpret it either way. One thing is clear though – his stance on drugs has not changed between this and Fellowship. When Gandalf tries to bring up what Radagast saw, Saruman won’t listen because he thinks Radagast is a hopeless case whose “consumption of mushrooms have addled his mind and yellowed his teeth”. So Saruman’s not only kind of a pompous jerk, he’s also a total narc. Maybe he just went with Sauron in the hopes of destroying Middle Earth’s drug rings.

While Saruman pontificates on the dangers of drug use in wizardry, Gandalf and Galadriel have a conversation via telepathy. It’s kind of obvious nobody’s listening to him at this point despite him going on and on. (Forget the drugs, THIS is the reason why Saruman decided to join the bad guys.)

“Umm, hello? Guys? Are you even listening to me? This drug stuff may save your life someday, it’s very important. HELLO??”

“Umm, hello? Guys? Are you even listening to me? This drug stuff may save your life someday, it’s very important. HELLO??”

At Galadriel’s urging, Gandalf shows them the sword and they recognize it. Someone would have to have broken into the tomb of the Witch-King to steal it. Gandalf mentions the Necromancer and Saruman denies there’s a connection (or IS there??) and announces they cannot let the dwarves continue their quest. During his second tirade, however, Gandalf and Galadriel have another mind-meld moment where he reveals he already sent them on ahead without him so they wouldn’t be stopped by the elves.

“Um, fellas, you’re doing it again. Will somebody pay attention to me for once?!”

“Um, fellas, you’re doing it again. Will somebody pay attention to me for once?!”

“Join the club, pal.”

“Join the club, pal.”

As dawn approaches we see Galadriel and Gandalf share a heartfelt moment. Galadriel believes Gandalf is right in aiding Thorin in his quest but wants to know why he chose Bilbo of all people to join them. This is his answer –

“I don’t know. Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I’ve found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.”

I can honestly count Gandalf’s reply as one of the best touching speeches in any of the Lord of the Rings movies, maybe because it speaks to me personally. Everything he stated is true. As we see later, one act of kindness, no matter how small, can change everything. Having the Shire theme play as he says it also adds to the scene. That piece of score could be played on someone’s armpit and it would still be beautiful.

Another thing to note is that Gandalf admits to being afraid. This is one reason why I’ve always preferred Gandalf the Grey as opposed to his perfect nirvana-achieved form of Gandalf the White. Sure, the White version of him is more powerful, but when he’s Grey, he feels more approachable, more human. He has immense power, but he still has genuine fears and emotions. People can always go to him for help and advice, but even the strongest people in the world need someone else to lean on every now and then, and who does he have? Galadriel takes his hand into hers and softly whispers that if he ever needs her, she will be there, before vanishing.

“Yeah, she does that.”

“Yeah, she does that.”

Meanwhile, the journey of Thorin and the company takes them further away from the last safe haven into the wild terrain of the Misty Mountains.

“First person who starts singing “Climb Every Mountain” goes to the back of the group!”

“First person who starts singing “Climb Every Mountain” goes to the back of the group!”

As they go into a storm they find themselves having to walk on a treacherous narrow ledge, which turns into one of the coolest scenes in the movie. They discover they’re not on a ledge or on a mountain – they’re on the legs of a stone giant.

Eh, close enough.

Eh, close enough.

The giant comes to life and starts hurling rocks at another giant disguised as a neighboring mountain. The company is literally caught in the middle of the battle, hanging on for dear life and trying to avoid the falling rocks as they’re tossed about and the storm thunders around them. It gets very tense when the group gets separated and I remember this being the moment when, seeing this in theaters, I was actually sitting at the edge of my seat. This part was simply awesome if you saw it in IMAX and in 3-D.

For a split second, it seems like half of the dwarves are doomed, but they reappear safe and sound except for Bilbo, who Thorin risks his life to rescue at the last minute. Everyone is relieved that they didn’t lose their burglar; everyone except Thorin, that is. To him, Bilbo has been nothing but a thorn in his side from the start, always needing to be saved and doing nothing but causing trouble, and he makes sure Bilbo knows it (ouch).

The company finds shelter in a nearby cave and they decide to wait out the storm (and wait for Gandalf) there. When everyone is asleep, Bilbo takes his things and tries to sneak out, but is caught by Bofur, who is keeping watch. Bilbo admits that Thorin was right about him not being a true member of the group and he’s going back to stay with the elves. Bofur protests that he belongs with them as much as he does. Both are unaware that Thorin is secretly listening to them.

Bilbo accidentally insults Bofur by asking how could he possibly know what being homesick is like if they don’t even have a home only to realize what he said. Bofur, however, doesn’t get mad. Instead he lets Bilbo leave and wishes him luck – and not in a sarcastic way either, in an honest and caring way. And that’s why Bofur’s my favorite of the dwarfs; he’s all fun and games and provides some much needed levity throughout the movies, but when it comes down to it, he’s got a huge heart that’s always in the right place. He’s one of the few dwarves who’s seen actively caring about Bilbo and helping him throughout the trip (his blabbing at Bilbo’s house over Smaug notwithstanding) and despite their short time together and all the perils they’ve faced he considers him one of the company.

Before Bilbo can depart, however, Bofur notices that his sword is lighting up. Bilbo takes it out and sees it is brightly glowing blue. He remembers what Gandalf told him about elvish swords too late – they always glow when danger is nearby. The floor beneath them opens up and all the dwarves fall through a tunnel into the caves. They land smack in the middle of the goblin kingdom, where they are instantly set upon by the goblin hordes and taken away. Bilbo is somehow missed but is attacked by a lone goblin and they both fall over the edge.

The goblins drag the dwarves to the heart of Goblin Town, which is ruled by the Goblin King played by Dame Edna herself, Barry Humphries. He heralds their arrival by breaking into a threatening song about how screwed the dwarves are.

And frankly I’m ashamed of anyone who has made fun of this part in reviews or Youtube videos. Here we have a singing dancing Goblin King with thousands of his people joining him in song…

…and yet none of you has made a single Labyrinth joke.

Allow me to remedy that!

Admittedly, this is where I have to give credit to the Rankin-Bass version of The Hobbit over the Jackson one. The song in that one is catchy and personifies the rush and impending doom that our heroes are facing. Having it sung by Thurl Ravenscroft of Haunted Mansion and How the Grinch Stole Christmas fame certainly helps too. According to some of the bonus features, Humphries was asked to make up a melody as he sang the song and the music was orchestrated around it in order to make it sound as horrible and cacophonous as goblin music would most likely sound, and it worked perhaps a bit too well. It’s not a terrible number, but dare I say it –

“Dare! Dare!”

– it stops the film for a few minutes just so they could have that song.

Also, one last nitpick, whenever I hear Humphries’ voice coming from the Goblin King’s mouth, I keep expecting him to say this –

 “I am a nice goblin, not a mindless eating machine. Dwarves are friends, not food.”

“I am a nice goblin, not a mindless eating machine. Dwarves are friends, not food.”

The dwarves are stripped of their weapons and we find that one of them, Nori, has taken more than his fair share of souvenirs from Rivendell (forget Bilbo, the dwarves will be totally fine with Nori’s pickpocketing skills). The Goblin King inspects a candlestick, which actually reads “Made in Rivendell” underneath. This brings up a bunch of hilarious questions, like does Middle Earth mark all their stuff the way we do? Did Elrond make his fortune fencing second-age silverware and other objects? It’s a little thing that just makes me laugh every time.

The Goblin King’s ire is aroused by a partly-deaf dwarf, Oin, and Bofur steps in to try to explain what they were doing in the mountains. He draws out the story that they’re visiting relatives in a way not too dissimilar to Bugs Bunny trying to sidestep a bad guy, driving the King nuts until he finally snaps and yells at him to shut up.

And then Bofur makes this face.

Aaand now I have crush on Jimmy Nesbit. If this review hasn’t gotten weird already, it certainly has now.

Aaand now I have crush on Jimmy Nesbit. If this review hasn’t gotten weird already, it certainly has now.

The Goblin King orders that they be tortured but Thorin makes himself known. His highness mockingly bows to Thorin and I hope he’s got some ice packs on his person because he delivers a nasty burn about him being a nobody with no kingdom. He also drops a bomb that – brace yourselves – Azog is alive (no!!) and sends a messenger to inform the orc he’s got his bounty waiting for him.

Bilbo comes to after his long fall and hides out among some giant mushrooms (which I’m sure Radagast would go into cardiac arrest if he saw) as something crawls out of the darkness and kills and eats the goblin that fell with him. The only thing the creature leaves behind is a ring, which Bilbo picks up and slips in his pocket.

“Cool souvenir. It’s probably junk though, totally not important in any way.”

“Cool souvenir. It’s probably junk though, totally not important in any way.”

Now another nitpick some of the fans have is that scene wasn’t done exactly as it was during Fellowship’s prologue. It doesn’t bother me all that much because that prologue was narrated by Galadriel, and was she there when it happened? The answer is no. When the narration is done by a character from the film instead of an omniscient narrator, it often takes on touches of their point of view, so I like to think that that prologue is how Galadriel envisioned the scene going as opposed to what we see happen in this film.

Bilbo pockets the Ring and finds himself in a watery cavern. He is discovered by its only inhabitant, the creature Gollum (Andy Serkis).

You had one job, Hollywood. 13 years later and we’re still waiting for you to give him the damn Oscar already!

You had one job, Hollywood. 13 years later and we’re still waiting for you to give him the damn Oscar already!

No matter how much the nitpickers groaned over the amount of CGI and the reviewers complained about the film’s pace, they all shut their traps when it came to Gollum and rightfully so. He still looks great and Andy Serkis is just as amazing as he was when he first appeared in The Two Towers, capturing the madness, creepiness and isolation with humor and pathos.

For those of you who don’t know who or what Gollum is, here’s his story in a nutshell – he was once a normal person named Smeagol who came across the One Ring while fishing with his friend Deagol. The Ring’s power immediately corrupted him and he killed Deagol over it. The Ring gave Smeagol unnaturally long life and over time twisted him into something inhuman. He also developed a split personality; in addition to his benign but still dangerous former self, there’s the crueler and more sinister Gollum, named after the choking sound he makes. The Ring, his “precious” as he famously calls it, is to him what drugs are to a junkie (and judging by how he looks Gollum could be the poster boy for people who clearly need to enter rehab).

He hasn’t realized that he’s lost his precious just yet, however. Instead, he’s surprised to find this “Bagginses” in his lair and is deciding with himself over whether or not it tastes good. Gollum just wants to eat him but Smeagol seems happy with the company. Bilbo is understandably confused when he starts talking to himself, which leads to some funny reactions. Eventually Bilbo and Gollum come to an agreement – the two of them (three if you count Smeagol) will play a game of riddles. If Bilbo wins, Gollum will show him the way out of the tunnels. If Gollum wins, then Bilbo is next on the menu.

This scene, referred to as “Riddles in the Dark” in the book and by fans, is lifted directly from the book, albeit with one or two riddles cut for time. It still retains its dark humor and tension throughout. Bilbo displays some of his hidden cleverness here, but notices that Gollum is getting angrier and closer to him the closer he gets to winning.

When it’s Bilbo’s turn to give one last riddle, he runs out of ideas, but is inspired when he touches the hidden Ring – “What have I got in my pocket?” he asks. Gollum is understandably peeved but is unable to answer his question correctly and loses. To add insult to injury, Bilbo refuses to tell him the answer. Before Gollum can lead the way, he realizes his precious is lost and is torn to pieces over it, though he won’t tell a worried Bilbo what his precious is. In a nod to the famous reflection scene from Return of the King, Smeagol faces Gollum in the water and deduces exactly what Bilbo has got in his pocketseses. Enraged, he chases him into the caves.

Back at Goblin Town, the tortures are about to get underway when the goblins discover Thorin has Orcrist on him. Upon seeing the sword infamous for taking so many goblin lives, the goblins react the same way airport personnel do when they find an unattended bag and panic is spread in record-breaking time, pushing the King to skip the torture and get right to killing the dwarves instead. He’s stopped when a powerful flash of light blows everyone away and temporarily plunges the cave into darkness.

ol-gregg

Nobody wants to see your mangina Old Greg, stop flashing everyone and put it away!

Thankfully for us, it’s just Gandalf causing a distraction. In the brief time that’s bought, the dwarves get their weapons back and make their escape. The chase that ensues is something right out of Indiana Jones (they even include the Wilhelm scream). There’s constant action throughout with everyone fighting swarms of goblins using their signature weapons, their bare hands or anything they can get a hold of. The kills in these few minutes alone are some of the best and creative in any of the films and they don’t hold back too much on the gorier aspects either. Add that on top of running and jumping and hurtling through chasms at breakneck speed and you get one hell of an awesome sequence.

Just when it seems they’re about to get away, the Goblin King jumps up from the bridge and blocks their only escape. They are surrounded by their foes. The King taunts them “Just what are you going to do now, wizard?”

“Well first I’m gonna chop off that scrotum beard dangling from your neck, then set your loincloth on fire, slam my staff into your skull until it bleeds, and then –“

“Well first I’m gonna chop off that scrotum beard dangling from your neck, then set your loincloth on fire, slam my staff into your skull until it bleeds, and then –“

“Ah, Mr. Gandalf, why don’t you just stab him?”

“Ah, Mr. Gandalf, why don’t you just stab him?”

“Oh, okay, that works too.”

“Oh, okay, that works too.”

After that bit of anticlimaxery, the added weight of the Goblin King’s already bloated corpse causes the bridge to break and they all go tumbling into a ravine. They make it out all right because dwarves are either Kryptonian or Middle Earth’s gravity isn’t as strong as ours. It’s at this point in time that Bilbo, still pursued by Gollum, trips and falls, and much like Frodo, the ring falls on to his finger and turns him invisible. Gollum, the dwarves and Gandalf all run past him without knowing he’s there.

Armed with his sword, Bilbo moves into to kill Gollum, but hesitates when Gollum turns around and unknowingly faces him. He’s no longer furious but sad – no, heartbroken over losing his Precious. It’s in this moment of vulnerability that Bilbo sees him for what he truly is – a pathetic lonely creature. Bilbo is moved to pity and spares him.

To this day my boyfriend argues that most of what happens in the following films could have been avoided if he had just stabbed him, but come on, how can you hurt someone with a face like that?

To this day my boyfriend argues that most of what happens in the following films could have been avoided if he had just stabbed him, but come on, how can you hurt someone with a face like that?

Gandalf and the dwarves avoid the rest of the goblins and make it out alive but Gandalf notices Bilbo is missing. Nori notes that he wasn’t with them when they were taken by the goblins and Thorin assumes that he must have fled back home at the first opportunity. They’re unaware that Bilbo, still invisible, is listening in on them.

Even after being put down by Thorin yet again and given one more chance to turn back, Bilbo chooses to reveal himself much to Gandalf and the others’ relief. Something compels him to keep exactly how he escaped a secret, but Gandalf notices him slip the Ring into his pocket. Bilbo confesses that yes, he is homesick, but he knows the dwarves don’t even have a home to go to and he’s willing to see this quest through to help them get it back.

The company is moved by his words, but there’s no time for more emotional speeches – Azog has tracked them down.

“Kill the hobbit, kill the hobbit – come on, you all know the words!”

“Kill the hobbit, kill the hobbit – come on, you all know the words!”

Azog and his wargs chase them into a night scene to the edge of a cliff. Everyone climbs up some trees to escape them and Gandalf, realizing now would be as good a time as any to summon a dues ex machina, sends a moth out as an SOS. To stall until help arrives, he and the dwarves set pinecones on fire and use them as grenades. They keep the wargs at bay but their assault on the trees causes them to tip over and hang precariously over a cliff. Azog makes some taunts about how Thorin’s father died wallowing in fear the same way they will, and that’s all Thorin can stand he can’t stand no more. In majestic slow motion, he rises and charges at him sword drawn, ready to exact vengeance at the cost of his own life.

“Hello. My name is Thorin Oakenshield. You killed my father and grandfather. Prepare to die.”

“Hello. My name is Thorin Oakenshield. You killed my father and grandfather. Prepare to die.”

Azog, however, has been anticipating this. Riding his warg he bolts straight at Thorin…

…and completely knocks him down with one hit.

Yeah, I can’t defend that. Total fail, Thorin. Total FAIL.

facepalmAzog beats the snot out of Thorin for a bit while the dwarves are helpless to watch. Finally he calls an orc over to chop off his head for him.

Wait, Azog was the one who was so gung-ho about killing Thorin himself. Why is he hesitating now? Was he just beat from thrashing him so hard? Did Thorin go down so easily that he decided it wasn’t worth the effort? Was it that other orc’s birthday or something? You really need to brush up on your list of evil overlord pitfalls, Azog.

facepalmBefore the final blow is struck, Bilbo leaps in the way and kills the orc. He stands over Thorin, ready to protect him with his last breath. As the orcs attack, the dwarves, moved by Bilbo’s courage, leap into the fray and fight them off. One small act can make the biggest difference.

Eventually Bilbo finds himself facing Azog. He’s woefully outmatched, the other dwarves can’t get to him in time and the rest that are still stuck in the trees along with Gandalf are slipping. As luck would have it, the deus-ex of Middle Earth finally arrives – the eagles!

“About time you dumb birds showed up!” “Sorry, not our fault, we had to take care of a boy and some mice in Australia.”

“About time you dumb birds showed up!” “Sorry, not our fault, we had to take care of a boy and some mice in Australia.”

The eagles beat up the wargs and rescue our heroes. They also pick up Thorin’s body, but his oak branch falls out of his grasp and is left behind (is there a word that combines foreshadowing and symbolism, because if there isn’t there should be).

“You know, now that we’re with these giant birds I just remembered something I was gonna say to Radagast…meh, I’m sure it’ll come to me eventually.”

“You know, now that we’re with these giant birds I just remembered something I was gonna say to Radagast…meh, I’m sure it’ll come to me eventually.”

The eagles drop them off at the summit of a bear-shaped mountain (great, they overshot their destination and landed in Disney’s California Adventure). Then they just leave. I would complain about why they don’t drop them off at the Lonely Mountain but everyone and their mother has already talked about how these buzzards could have solved every problem in Lord of the Rings (and every Tolkienite and their mother have some kind of convoluted rebuttal to each of those complaints) so I’m not going to repeat what a million other people have said.

Gandalf heals Thorin and he immediately asks whether or not Bilbo is ok. On finding he’s all right, he rails on Bilbo for risking his life the way he did. “Did I not say that you were a burden, that you had no place amongst us…never have I been so wrong in all my life.” And he embraces Bilbo passionately while the other dwarves cheer for him.

Behold, the moment that launched a thousand Bagginshield ships, and I am totally fine with it.

Behold, the moment that launched a thousand Bagginshield ships, and I am totally fine with it.

With hugs, newfound friendships and potential shipping out of the way, the company spies the Lonely Mountain just on the horizon. Birds are flocking to it, including a thrush, which they take as a good sign. Bilbo announces that the worst must be behind them.

I hate to break it to you Bilbo, but…

hobbit-postersfacepalmAnd that is An Unexpected Journey, or a rather fun and adventurous one if you enjoyed it. The casting is spot-on, the action is creative, the attention to detail is stunning, and it’s nice to have another good film about a trip through Middle Earth again. There are lots of little moments and subtle gestures that hearken back to the Lord of the Rings films, Fellowship in particular, but they don’t feel intrusive.

I know not everyone feels this way, hell, I know people who love the original trilogy and can’t stand the newer movies. Lots of comparisons have been made between them and the Star Wars prequels, but compared to them the Hobbit films are WATCHABLE. For one thing, you can take or leave these films; you don’t have to watch them to understand or enjoy The Lord of the Rings or vice-versa, but it adds just a bit more cool inside stuff for fans if you have. Also, as of writing this, Peter Jackson hasn’t tried to add anything from The Hobbit films into Fellowship, Two Towers or Return of the King and thus force the films to interconnect. There’s no racist CGI-abominations (unless you think Azog is racist against albinos), no overly-padded races, and no prop, weapon or vehicle that screams “GET YOUR MOM AND DAD TO BUY YOU THIS AWESOME THING BECAUSE IT’S GONNA BE AN AWESOME TOOOOOOOYY!!!” There’s a decent sense of story and character throughout and it doesn’t feel like they’re treading old ground when a character or plot point from one of the previous films appears. It is a bit more CGI-heavy than the other films, but for something of this scale sometimes you have to compromise. Plus, in the ten years since the original trilogy, most of us have grown more accustomed to the illusion of CGI and are able to discern it easier, which is why I don’t give it as much crap as others have when they say the effects were better back then compared to now.

That being said any qualms I have with this movie or any other in the trilogy isn’t the CGI or the nods to the previous installments or much of the embellishments made to the characters or story. It’s that the studio’s involvement is very noticeable, or at least more so than the other films; extra conflict is added because the main plot doesn’t have enough, old characters that aren’t in the book return so they could market on some familiar faces, the story is split up so more films can be made and so forth (I’m going to leave any discussions on the inclusion of Tauriel for when I get around to reviewing The Desolation of Smaug because she’s worth an essay of her own). Depending on who you ask these all problems are either downplayed or exacerbated as the trilogy progresses.

When Lord of the Rings was released in 2001, it was a major gamechanger in how films today are made and marketed. For the first time in years, if ever, a major film franchise was created that took fans of high fantasy seriously. Every second of dedication to building this world and making it work for the screen shows. Nobody could anticipate how much of a success these movies would be and how influential they are to this day. I’m willing to bet those who were disappointed by The Hobbit were hoping these films would do the same.

The thing is, The Hobbit was never supposed to be the second coming of Lord of the Rings, not even when it was first written.

The original story was written and published long before everything that happened in the future books was even conceived. Tolkien retroactively changed things in The Hobbit so it would fit in with the continuity of Fellowship, Two Towers and Return of the King. This movie and the two that follow are very much in the same vein as that decision. Going in I knew that they weren’t going to be exactly like the other films that were made before it. That didn’t mean I had to lower my standards; if anything, I was even more open to the possibilities a new adaptation presented. I was excited to see who would appear and what could change the outcome of the plot (I accidentally had the ending spoiled by TV Tropes before Battle of the Five Armies came out but before then I tried my hardest not to find out what would happen so I would be one-hundred percent invested). Fans may cry foul all they want but I say who cares? The filmmakers still gave it their all to make every addition work, and as a whole, they do work. As manipulative as they say it is to have Frodo and Saruman pop in, I still welcome them. As padding as those extra battles are, I’m still enthralled by them. As “sneaky and tricksy” as those alterations to characters and their importance in the stories are, I embrace them because it opens new doors in how they’re developed and effect the overall outcome. Let’s face it, as much as we love to say things like “The Avengers is the perfect superhero film” or “The Lion King is the perfect Disney film” or “Lord of the Rings is the perfect fantasy movie”, there’s no such thing as a perfect movie. I’d be lying if I said this or any of the Hobbit movies were perfect, but as they are, they’re a perfectly enjoyable and unexpected journey back into Middle Earth.


Thank you for reading. If you like what you see and want more reviews, vote for what movie you want me to look at next by leaving it in the comments or emailing me at upontheshelfshow@gmail.com. Remember, you can only vote once a month. The list of movies available to vote for are under “What’s On the Shelf”.

And yes, I purposefully dropped the title in the last line, but only because they never do in An Unexpected Journey. Not even once. They slip in some of the chapter names like “A Merry Gathering” or “Out of the Frying Pan”, but the closest we come to hearing the name of the movie is when Thorin enters Bag End and says “So, this is the Hobbit.” It’s practically a tradition that each of Jackson’s Middle Earth films drop the title in the dialogue so it’s weird that they waited to do it again until Desolation of Smaug. Could they not just find a way to make a line like “Well, this is an unexpected journey, isn’t it?” or “This is the tale of my unexpected journey” work?

80% of the screencaps from movie-screencaps.com

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