Maybe it’s me. Maybe my expectations were just too high. I went to the theater to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and was ready to be blown away. After all, this was Peter Jackson returning to the world of Tolkien he brought to vivid life with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, now with bonus Guillermo del Toro alongside Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens. So why did I leave feeling underwhelmed?
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the movie. It’s not a bad film by any means and there’s a lot of good stuff in it. Martin Freeman was the absolute perfect choice to play Bilbo Baggins. He does a fine job of carrying the movie, and is easily the best thing in it. Of course it’s always great to see more Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis as Gandalf and Gollum, respectively. The effects were flawless and the added appearances of returning characters from LotR didn’t feel too forced. Heck, with Sylvester McCoy’s performance as Radagast the Brown the filmmakers took a minor character that got only a few mentions in all of Tolkien’s works and made him arguably the breakout character. So what kept me from making the jump from “like it” to “love it!”?
First off there’s the padding. While LotR needed three movies to do it justice, The Hobbit really didn’t. This was originally a children’s book, after all, and a short one at that. There were a few scenes that did absolutely nothing to move along the plot. For example, the battle of those rock giants. Sure, it looked cool, but it accomplished nothing. Yes, it forced the company to seek shelter, but bad weather could have had the same effect. (And for the record, seeking refuge in a cave after watching those things literally pull themselves out of the mountains? Not the best plan, in my eyes. For all they know they could’ve just climbed into a rock giant’s asshole.) I can see The Hobbit warranting two films, but three just seems to be stretching it.
Then there’s the cast extremely large cast. I like the Dwarves, but there’s just too damn many of them. This isn’t the film’s fault, as it’s true to the book as well, but it’s more glaring here. Bilbo is easy to recognize, and most viewers won’t have a problem with the returning characters. But the Dwarves mostly just blend into one bearded lump. A few of them get a little exposition, but not much. Thorin’s easy, seeing as how his dashing good looks no doubt left him ostracized for appearing too human. (While at the same time resembling John Travolta as Terl from Battlefield: Earth.) Who else do I remember? There’s the old one. The tattooed one who arrives at Bilbo’s first. The one with the thing in his head. The one with the ear horn. The two in the Troll scene. The one who stood watch that one time. The doofy one. And the fat one. That’s ten out of thirteen, which is a higher count that I expected to remember. I don’t dare try to figure out which name belongs to who, other than the fat one is Bombur.
Finally, I think my biggest hinderance is familiarity. Like many others, I read LotR in high school but didn’t remember a lot of the specifics. So when I saw the films I was familiar with what was going on, but not enough to know what was going to happen next. In contrast, I grew up watching the excellent Rankin/Bass animated adaption of The Hobbit. I probably watched it dozens of times. Consequently, I found myself comparing the live action version to it. While the Dwarve’s songs were great, I wanted some “The Greatest Adventure” music as well. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had “Fifteen Birds” going through their head when the Goblins chased our heroes up those trees. When Gandalf caught a glimpse of Bilbo pocketing the One Ring I was really hoping to hear him say the same lines John Huston used, that “Your story has a ring of truth to it. Yes, it rings true.” (Such a great line that shows just how on the ball Gandalf really is.) We’ll see how this new version of Smaug compares, but the bar is set pretty darn high.
That’s about all I have to say about the first Hobbit flick. I liked it when I wanted to love it. The most exciting moment of that night at the theater was the trailer for Pacific Rim. Maybe if The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey had Ron Perlman and Idris Elba in it, things would be different.