Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

 I feel a desperate urge to sing the praises of this film to the hills and back, so I’m going to try and take a restrained view and hit on a your mileage may vary moment. This is an action film. The characters set off on  their quest and in that they bounce from battle to battle, from giant stone monsters, to rabbit chariots (yes, really), to more battles and action. This film a series of action scenes loosely linked together. And I loved it, so there.

It is beautiful – it uses it’s brilliant picture and 3D-ness to great effect both during the action scenes but also showcasing the amazing scenery and detailed sets they use. It’s visually stunning and rich and glorious. It’s also restrained – I think we’re finally past the whole “WE HAVE 3D! LOOKIT COMING AT YOUR FACE AUDIENCE MUAHAHAHAHA!” phase and are finally incorporating 3D into films without feeling the need to ram an orc into your eyes every 5 seconds. It was used to enhance the movie rather than having the movie be a tool to show off the pretty technology.

The pacing is fast and exciting – but what do you expect for a series of closely linked action sequences? But I also think a lot of flesh has been added to the bare bones the book provided.

There was a lot about this film that fixed so many of the problems I had with the Hobbit. Part of that is the format – it’s much quicker to show beautiful, fantastic scenario, to show events, to show feelings than it is to describe them in extreme detail. And with songs. Just changing to a film greatly speeded up the slow pace of the book.

Similarly, while the dwarfs weren’t much more developed than in the book – merely being there, present during the scenes than being a name that is randomly brought up gives them much more presence than just the name they were in the book. They were all part of the fights, all part of the journey, all part of the story. Yes, there was still a lot of “oh shit Gandalf save us!” quite a lot, but at least they seemed to be there trying while Gandalf saved the day rather than flailing around incompetently and letting the wizard get on with it.

The film also did a great job of making Thorin a hero, a leader, a king people would want. In the book, again, he was something of a name and little else. Thorin in the film is epic, truly, awesome and a force to be reckoned with. Ok a lot of it takes part in the past – but he is still amazingly cool. And surprises everyone that you can have a hairy dwarf be the sexy male lead.

There were a few elements added to the film that were missing from the book and, I dare say, Tolkein purists are chuntering away. But I think they all added something important. The council with Galadriel, Elrond, Gandalf and Saruman helped tie in the film more with the Lord of the Rings and tie events together. There was a greater sense of events being lifted to a higher level than in the book. Gandalf is meddling not because he wants several random dwarfs to be rich, but because he fears the Necromancer (Sauron) coming back. This, along with Radagast the Brown’s inclusion (and his awesome rabbit chariot. Yes it was a rabbit chariot, yes it should have been ridiculous, yes, it was shockingly awesome) changes the Hobbit from a tale of several dwarfs out to fill their pockets who happen to trip over the One Ring on the way to being a story about the opening gambits in the war against Sauron: denying Sauron the help and power of Smaug. In the overall mythos it makes the film and the events of it far more significant and I hope it continues.

Even smaller inclusions helped iron out some of the shaky book elements such as Thorin discusses having tried to recruit more dwarfs – revealing why the party is so ill-equipped, short manned and poorly planned for the journey. Even Gandalf summoning a butterfly to call the eagles was immensely better than just have them pass by and decide on a rescue.

Storywise, Thorin’s resentment of Bilbo, while much harsher than the book, also makes sense. For the majority of the book Bilbo is a reluctant, at best, companion who doesn’t add a whole lot to the group’s abilities or skills – why should Thorin be happy at his presence, eating supplies, planning on taking a share of the wealth and possibly getting them killed with ineptitude? He’s there because the wizard says so. But, at the same time, because we have Thorin’s not-so-gentle contempt very much apparent, they also had to add the Bilbo redemption scene with the orcs to make sure Bilbo earns his place sooner. Again, I approve – Bilbo waits far too long to become useful to the group in the books. I also prefer this scene – Bilbo proved his worth through courage and loyalty, not because he had the shiny ring of shininess.

Of the changes that were made, inclusiveness wasn’t one of them. Galadriel had a very brief scene, and that was it.

I loved the film. I sat through all buttock-numbing 2 hours 30 minutes of it (and longer for the damn adverts) and loved every second of it. They did everything I hoped they do to a book I didn’t care for – highlight it’s strengths, smooth over its weak spots and ad flesh where needed to create an epic film that’s well worth watching.

Oh, it also had some surprisingly hot dwarfs