Friday, 1 February 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

I've always commended Peter Jackson for managing to trim down the three massive novels of The Lord of the Rings down into nine hours (twelve if you watch the proper versions) without skimping out too much on the lore and backstory of Middle Earth.

But then he went and decided that The Hobbit, a 300 page book largely aimed at children (and for reference, the shortest of the thee LotR book was over 400 pages), needed to be made into three full films itself. The entire premise of the book is Bilbo Baggins, hobbit bachelor-come-adventurer, goes on a quest with a motley band of dwarves to fight a dragon and claim his ill-gotten treasure. Well, not to spoil it, but by the end of this first film they've just caught their first glimpse of the dragon's lair. And it's literally a point on the horizon at this moment.

Now to be fair, Jackson isn't just doing a word-for-word depiction of the book, largely because there wouldn't be enough words in the book to fill a trilogy. There is a lot of scene setting and world building coming from the various appendices from other books and I think some stuff from The Silmarillion, so there is some extra stuff that you don't get in The Hobbit, the book. Fans of the series will be able to piece together a lot of the dark shadows forming behind the curtains, setting the stage for the return of Sauron with the next generation of Bagginses.

That itself is the biggest problem the film has though. The Hobbit is, pretty much, a children's book. that is not a bad thing and it doesn't mean you can't make a movie for both adults and children from it. What it does mean is you have to make a choice about tone. You can go with the slapstick approach to violence and combat, or you can go for visceral and bloody fighting but you can't have bits of both and expect your film to feel coherent. You can have the dark and brooding menace of lingering shadows on the horizon and tales of kingdoms that have been wronged for generations and you can have jokes about how the fat dwarves love to eat, but you've got to strike an appropriate balance. The comic relief of Legolas and Gimli worked in the LotR trilogy because it was just that: comic relief between all the heavy stuff. In TH:AUJ it's kind of laid on a little too much and a little too thick.

I do hope that Jackson slightly readdresses this balance in favour of one way or the other for The Desolation of Smaug (which, by the way should be pronounced Smorg and not Smowg as this illiterate adaptation calls him) but it shouldn't take much. It's not offensively bad at all. If anything I just can't wait to see Benedict Cumberbatch playing a dragon.

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