(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.)
“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…
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.
And here they are from the Peter Jackson films.
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?
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.