Sunday 16 December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

The Hobbit was read to me in my infancy, but I subsequently forgot any parts of it that weren't recapped by the films of Lord of the Rings.  I tried to read it around five years ago, but crashed out somewhere in chapter two, frustrated by the made-up sounding names of the dwarves, and all that singing.

I tried again this Autumn, accidentally starting on the 75th anniversary of the book's publication, and found a great deal to like.  It's a fun adventure, full of incident, set within a well thought-out world of great detail.  The problem is, the great detail doesn't turn up until very long sequel The Lord of the Rings.

I do like a splash of colour.  Far greener than its Sequel.

In the end I read The Hobbit in the knowledge that the film adaptation was to be greatly expanded, unfolding 300 pages into nearly nine hours.  Some have quavered, but I was glad of this fact.  I'm a great believer that you can't do much with a novel in two hours, and everything happens so suddenly in this book.  Gollum is in and out in a trice, given almost more backstory than story.    Characters like the Goblin King and the Master of Lake Town turn up without being granted either names or physical descriptions of any kind.  The thing was crying out for pictures and performances, for the care and attention of Peter Jackson, and an industrial tanker of helium with which to fill out the slightly insubstantial sketches that appear in some places in the book.

So, I went to see the movie in Oxford with a company of friends.  Critics had warned me to be wary, but I had resolved to enjoy the film to the full, and I was in the right context to do so.  As I hoped, this was a story told big, with, y'know, drama and emotions, as well as singing and falling over.  It was broader and deeper than the book, not that the depth wasn't there in the Tolkien, but some was hitherto hidden by being in the wrong book.  A fun adventure, but not just fun and adventurey.  From book to film, twelve rather anonymous dwarves, who had been too much alike, too irritating and altogether too many have become about six interesting and excellently enjoyable characters and about six who will presumably show their merits in the next two portions of Hobbit.  I'll get back to you about them in 2014.

I shan't say much more, as at this stage in 2012 you've probably seen more than enough review and comment on the subject, or have seen the film already and don't need to hear more.  I'll just say a word for Sylvester McCoy, an actor I've long enjoyed and championed.  It's a delight to see him on the big screen, especially when he gets to interact with, for instance, Ian McKellan, or a lovely hedgehog.  I think he may divide opinion here, as he does everywhere, but I won't object if he makes more substantial appearances in the next two films, and then his own psychedelic veterinary spin-off.

Television's Dr Who in a big beard

Final thoughts: the 48 frames per second looked great, and I welcome it for the future.  I'm glad I was wrong in my prediction that Sir Christopher Lee would die this year (and was likewise wrong about Sir Sean Connery and Sir Margaret Thatcher), and it's a fine thing to see him on display here being magnificently old.  The man loves his Tolkien, and I'm sure he'll enjoy the film.  And so will you, probably.

I've been a little excessive and updated thrice today.  Partly I'm getting through a backlog of watched-recently-but-not-blogged films (though I'll slow those down), but I thought it worth getting this one up while it was still a new film, and also making sure I'd spoken about three very different films.


  1. ...crashed out somewhere in chapter two...

    I was about fourteen when I first read The Hobbit I think, and I remember being very unimpressed with the singing and the general flow of the book until chapter seven. I have no idea why chapter seven changed things, but it apparently did.
    Lord of the rings took me 21 chapters to get into! I didn't even manage to finish return of the king in the end. I find Tolkein's habit of describing things at great length pretty of-putting, but that is why they translate so well to the screen, I think.

    I didn't know Sylvester McCoy was in this! How did I not know that?
    That, and the points you make about the characters being fleshed out makes me actually want to see it. I hadn't planned to before.

  2. aaaah, I'm still put off by the main actor playing the titular character. He's already ruined so many things i enjoy by being very dull and not seeming to understand the part he's playing. like David Jason crow-barred into the role of Rincewind in the colour of magic, it does not sit well with me. I'm sure the film is a fine and wonderful frolic none-the-less. I should state that I have on several occasions completely given up trying to read a number of things by Tolkien, his being an incredibly dense body of work, and my attention span being akin to that of, for example: an 8 year old girl in a pony factory.

    I found the graphic novel of The Hobbit to be greatly enjoyable and spiritingly, in only one volume.

    1. A few years ago I would have been with you about Martin Freeman, thinking him rather an ordinary fellow. Last year, though, I saw him give a brilliant and electrifying performance in 'Nightwatching', a 2007 Peter Greenaway film in which he played the painter Rembrandt embroiled in conspiracies, at times coming across as somewhere between John Simm and Senor Dinners. Since then I've been rather more excited about him, and found him wholly suitable to be young mr Ian Holm. I can believe they're the same Hobbit.