Film Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

It probably comes as no surprise to you that I was super excited about the first installment in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. I loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy and am a card-carrying member of the “I know each extended movie was four hours long, but I still wish there had been more” camp. Plus I love the book of The Hobbit, and am a huge fan of the original animated version. And also — Martin Freeman! Could there be a more perfect Bilbo Baggins?

So despite all the hubbub leading up to the release — Three movies! 48 frames per second! 3D! Elijah Wood returns! — I couldn’t wait to see it.

Now, one piece of controversy I can’t weigh in on is the 48fps 3D. We saw the plain ol’ 24fps 2D version. BUT The Husband went back a week later to see the 48fps 3D with his dad, and came back telling me it was life-changing and the single awesomest thing he’s ever seen in a theater. I asked him, “what about the people who say it makes it look like obvious sets and makeup and detracts from the magic of the world?” And his response was, “I have no idea what those people are talking about, but I feel sorry for them.” So I guess that’s our official family stance. If you disagree, you have to take it up with The Husband. Who won’t engage, so really, it’s probably best if you just rage silently.

Anyway, how about the movie itself? How does it stack up to LOTR, and how closely does it follow the book? And how did Jackson stretch an only moderate-length novel into three epic films? Is it a case of gratuitous money-grubbing?

Well, honestly, as a direct comparison, if I think back to how I felt the first time I saw Fellowship of the Ring and compare it to how I felt after The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the honest truth is I liked Fellowship more. HOWEVER. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like The Hobbit. it just means the films are different — as they should be, because the stories have a vastly different feel, despite sharing a director and a fantasy world — and that I find the beginning of Frodo’s story a bit more compelling than the beginning of Bilbo’s.

But for what it is — an adaptation of the first third (ish) of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, I think it succeeds. The casting of the new characters — Bilbo in particular — was spot-on, and much like with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, believing the characters played a huge role in accepting the fantastic story. Freeman’s Bilbo, in particular, was fabulous. He completely embodied the homebody hobbit and made me root for him in spite of the fact that Bilbo (in a that often goes unnoticed) is not heroic. In the book in particular, Bilbo pretty much never voluntarily goes into battle or stands up for his companions unless it somehow serves his own self-interest. Now in the movie, this is changed a bit, and although it made me tilt my head and go, “huh, that wasn’t in the book,” I understand why film-Bilbo needed to evolve a bit more than book-Bilbo. Some things work on paper that just don’t translate to screen. But Freeman made these changes seem totally organic to the character Tolkien created, and I think they worked.

The returning cast members — most notably Ian McKellen’s Gandalf and Andy Serkis’ Gollum — easily slipped back into their old roles. Kudos to the makeup department, because they made me believe that Elijah Wood, Ian Holm, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, and Hugo Weaving hadn’t aged at all. It helps that Elijah Wood hasn’t aged since he was about 15, but that’s beside the point. And they even made Ian McKellen look younger than he did 10 years ago. I tip my hat to them. That is no small task.

Aside from Freeman, the new cast members all performed admirably. The standouts was Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the motley crew of dwarves that Gandalf assembles. This film fleshes out Thorin’s back story a lot more thoroughly than the book does (using supplemental materials written by Tolkien), and I found it really interesting to learn about why he was the way he was. We don’t get a very in-depth a look at all the dwarves, as the film decides to highlight just a handful of them. I imagine that different dwarves will be highlighted in different films, so that by the end, we’ll know a good amount about each of them. I don’t mind this approach, as it would be really hard to get a close look at all 13 dwarves and still have anything resembling a story in just one movie.

As for the differences from the book, there was actually very little in the way of actual change. Most of the elements in the film that aren’t found in The Hobbit are chinks of back story that Tolkien himself filled in in his other writings. So they’re not changes, or additions, to the story. They’re just parts of the story that give context to what’s happening, and tie it into what happens in LOTR, that people who have only read The Hobbit wouldn’t know about. In my opinion, that doesn’t make them gratuitous or indulgent. They’re part of the story. Have been for decades. They’re just not the first book. So I appreciated them. Now, there are a few legitimate changes to the story. As I mentioned before, Bilbo has a bit more of an arc. There’s some fighting in places where there isn’t fighting in the book. The order of a couple minor events is switched around. But there weren’t any changes that I felt hurt the story, or marred the integrity of what Tolkien wrote.

And this film is overall more lighthearted and — occasionally — silly than LOTR. It’s received some criticism for this, but honestly, The Hobbit is a much more lighthearted book than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s got singing. It’s got something resembling slapstick humor. It makes bodily function jokes. If anything, the film toned most of this down from the book (for example, the goblins aren’t singing when they chase the dwarves into the trees. Good call, Jackson, as a song there may have diminished the intensity of that scene — but if the song had stayed in, at least he could say it’s in the book). So yes, the tone is different, which means it’s enjoyable in a different way. It’s still a spectacular fantasy adventure set in Middle Earth, but they come in all shapes and sizes. Kind of like dwarves.

Bottom line: I really enjoyed An Unexpected Journey. Was it the overwhelming awe I felt after Fellowship of the Ring? No, but that’s okay. I enjoyed the story and appreciate the way it was told. I loved the characters and look forward to getting to know them better. And I am still nothing but excited for future installments.

Throwback Thursday (June 28) – The Hobbit

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly meme hosted by The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books!

It’s the nature of book blogging to focus mainly on new releases, but there are thousands of great books out there that haven’t seen the “New Releases” shelf in years. We hope to be able to bring attention to some older titles that may not be at the top of the current bestseller list, but still deserve a spot in your To-Be-Read pile.

You don’t have to be a book blogger to participate! You can put up a Throwback Thursday post on your non-bookish blog; or if you don’t have a blog at all, just use the comments to tell us about a book you remember fondly.

Here’s how it works:
1. Pick any book released more than 5 years ago. Adult, YA, Children’s; doesn’t matter. Any great book will do.
2. Write up a short summary of the book (include the title, author, and cover art) and an explanation of why you love it. Make sure to link back to The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books in your post.
3. Link up your post at The Housework Can Wait or Never Too Fond of Books.
4. Visit as many blogs as you can, reminisce about books you loved, and discover some “new” books for your TBR list!

Feel free to grab the Throwback Thursday button code from the sidebar to use in your posts.

Thanks for participating, and we look forward to seeing which books you choose to remember!

My Throwback this week is…

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

I know what you’re thinking. Hasn’t everyone read The Hobbit? Why on earth would I feature a book everyone’s already read?

Well, the answer is twofold. One, everyone has not read it (gasp!). I know. It’s amazing, but true. I’ve even met some of them.

And second, even if everyone had already read it (which they haven’t), it’s still worth featuring, because it’s so old that no one features it anymore. Everyone just assumes everyone else has already read it.

If you’re living in a hole in the ground* and don’t know what The Hobbit is about, it is the story of Bilbo Baggins, who lives a quiet life in his Hobbit hole in the Shire, right up until a wizard named Gandalf and a group of dwarves show up on his doorstep and ask him to take part in an adventure.

What follows is a truly fabulous adventure, full of elves, goblins, trolls, and magic, as Bilbo and his companions journey through Middle Earth to rid the dwarves’ home in the Lonely Mountain of the fearsome dragon Smaug.

The Hobbit is a beautiful sweeping fantasy featuring a host of amazing and wonderful characters. It is in turns humorous, exciting, touching, and frightening.

It’s also a much easier read than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tolkien’s language is simpler, and the story isn’t nearly as broad or complex, so it can be understood by people of all ages.

As a matter of fact, my husband recently started reading it to our 6-year-old daughter, and she loves it so far. Especially the rhyming dwarf names.

If you’ve never given The Hobbit a chance, I urge you to try it. It’s a beautiful and enchanting story.

And if you have read The Hobbit (as I suspect most of you have), now would be a perfect time for a re-read, just in time for the movie to be released in December! Look, here’s the trailer, and it looks awesome.

*Yes, that was just a Hobbit pun

Link up your Throwback Thursday post below!

Top Ten Tuesday (May 8): Favorite Book Quotes

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the folks over at The Broke and the Bookish. It’s a fun time for us all to indulge our inner compulsion to make lists about everything.

We all have that compulsion right? Right???

Anyway, the topic for this week is a doozy. I have to be honest. It’s so hard, I very nearly skipped it. But I can’t allow myself to be defeated by a challenge, so I’m rising to the occasion.

This week’s topic is my Top 10 Favorite Quotes from Books, but I have to say a few things about it before I start my list. First of all, these may not actually be my top 10 favorites. Why? Because I don’t have time tonight to re-read every book I’ve ever read and jot down my favorite quotes from all of them, and then narrow that extensive list down to a top 10. So instead, I looked up quotes from books that I remember being very quotable, and pulled some of the best ones.

You’ll also notice that all my quotes are from classic literature or fantasy. I love me some modern YA writing, but when it comes to quotes, I always prefer the eloquent and somewhat poetic writing style of older books and fantasy novels.

As an additional disclaimer: I could do this entire list with quotes from The Princess Bride. But that probably defeats the purpose of the list. So I’m only going to use a couple, and those couple are going to be unique to the book. As in, I will only use quotes that were not in the movie, even if they are amazingly awesome quotes. Because I don’t want anyone — anyone — to think that if they’ve seen the movie, they don’t need to read the book. Trust me, you need to read the book. Also, by the way, all the best lines in the movie are from the book.

So here they are! In no particular order, because just picking 10 quotes in the first place was hard enough. Putting them in an order would be excruciating.

My Top Ten Favorite Quotes from Books:

“People don’t remember me. Really. It’s not a paranoid thing; I just have this habit of slipping through memories. It doesn’t bother me all that much, except I guess that’s a lie; it does. For some reason, I test very high on forgettability.”

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

“Enough about my beauty.” Buttercup said. “Everybody always talks about how beautiful I am. I’ve got a mind, Westley. Talk about that.”

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

“I want to do something splendid…something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it and mean to astonish you all someday.”

– Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

“It’s all connected. When you save any part of the world, you’ve saved the whole world. In fact, that’s the only way it can be done.”

Golden Fool by Robin Hobb

“When you cut pieces out of the truth to avoid looking like a fool you end up looking like a moron instead.”

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

“It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterward were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.”

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

“I can live alone, if self-respect, and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld, or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.”

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

“Want for nothing but patience — or give it a more fascinating name: Call it hope.”

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen