I was pretty surprised when I heard that Peter Jackson was going to turn The Hobbit into a motion picture trilogy. Yes, I claim to never be surprised when a company makes a decision that will make it more money, but I don’t think anyone has tried to make a trilogy out of a single 300-page novel before. Hey, at least we were less likely to end up complaining about our favorites scenes getting cut.
The bad news is that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey feels unnecessarily stretched out at times, especially at the beginning of the film. Before we even meet our hero Bilbo Baggins, we’re given an extensive look into the past of Middle Earth, when the Dwarves had their kingdom taken from them by the evil dragon Smaug. Smaug now resides in the ruins of that kingdom, known as The Lonely Mountain, guarding a pile of treasure. This introduction does a good job of building up the hype for the eventual confrontation between our hero and the dragon. The problem is that the audience has to wait until at least next year for that confrontation to actually take place.
The movie really should have started when Bilbo meets his travelling companions: 12 ordinary Dwarves, the legendary Dwarf Thorin Oakenshield, and the wizard Gandalf, who is wonderfully played by the beloved Ian McKellen. It’s in this part that the motivations and conflicts between the characters really get fleshed out. Bilbo is recruited by Gandalf on behalf of Thorin and company because of the Hobbit’s ability to sneak around unseen. After all, it would be crazy to go at Smaug in a straight-up brawl.
The problem is that Bilbo is very reluctant about adventures of any kind. He also lacks the strength and the combat skills (and the facial hair) that Thorin values in the rest of his company. Why should Bilbo risk his life for the sake of a group of Dwarves that doesn’t seem to respect him that much? That’s a theme throughout the film.
The other theme of the film is orc/goblin killing. It’s unclear to me if orcs and goblins are actually different groups of bad things, but they are both vile, so I’ll just stick with calling them orcs because most people are familiar with them from The Lord of the Rings. Anyway, there’s a lot of skewering of orcs in this film, and that’s a big part of what makes it so much fun. That, and the general buffoonery of the Dwarves. But, in general, if you like the combat scenes from Rings, you’ll probably enjoy The Hobbit.
The fighting isn’t the only similarity between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The character of Thorin is made to be a lot like Rings’ Aragorn. For one, he’s the heir of a lost kingdom that he will fight like hell to get back. For another, he acts as the bad-ass secondary hero to counterbalance Bilbo’s timidness amid danger. One thing I didn’t like about the Hobbit (besides the absurd length of the film) was the construction of a villainous rival for Thorin.
That is the Pale Orc, and he is unfortunately every bad guy cliche rolled up into one. He has a deep, evil laugh, he disposes of his underlings with little mercy when they screw up, and he even has a crudely-attached metal claw where his arm should be. Oh, and also, facial scars. The Pale Orc’s primary role is to seem more dangerous than the legions of orcs that the good guys mow down with little effort, and to keep the villain seat warm for when Smaug takes it over in the second or third movie.
The issues that The Hobbit has with length and lack of originality are more than made up for by fun action scenes and a terrific soundtrack. The movie’s main theme, which is introduced by the Dwarves singing it at the beginning of the journey, is just as stirring and inspiring as any classic “epic movie” theme from years past. The long shots featuring the group of heroes travelling over beautiful landscapes were made even more adventurous by the theme playing in the background.
I don’t think that The Hobbit trilogy will turn out to be as memorable as The Lord of the Rings, but the overarching theme that the smallest of beings can make a difference in a big, bad world filled Orcs, Trolls, and Dragons will never get old. The first part of Bilbo’s quest does a great job of establishing this theme, and the film is a treat for any action/adventure fan.