Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey


When I first heard this would be no less than three movies, I wondered how they could possibly do it. I mean, first Peter Jackson took The Lord of the Rings, a massive trilogy, and made three massive movies out of it … and still had to leave out a lot. Now we have this one, and in 2013 we will be getting The Desolation of Smaug, and in 2014 There and Back Again. And it’s all based on the fairly simple little book that started it all.

So how do you do it? One, by showing a lot of the back story that might have taken a paragraph or two in the book. All the back story about how the dwarfs built their vast underground city, and the arrival of the dragon, is shown in great detail. Many other things are similarly stretched.

Two, by adding some stuff. It’s been a long time since I read the book, so maybe there was mention of the stone giants hurling mountains at each other and the dwarfs and Bilbo getting trapped on the massive knees of one of them, but I don’t recall it. There are several sequences like that.

And three, by pumping everything that was in the book to Herculean proportions. When I read the book, I had no conception that was one thousandth the size of the underground goblin city. I guess that’s a failure of my imagination, and of course these days armies contain millions of CGI combatants, and underground cities are far larger than New York, and full of rickety collapsing scaffolding.

None of these things are really a problem, of course. Why shouldn’t it all be much bigger than I imagined? I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected to. The reviews were tepid (58 at Metacritic) but the audience was much more positive, 8.2 at the IMDb.

The main drawback for me is that I quickly lose interest in scenes of huge numbers of orcs, goblins, dwarfs, wargs, Republicans or whatever slashing away at each other with swords. You know going in that none of the dwarfs will be killed, though they are constantly in peril. But I knew that from the book, so what could I do? I know that Thorin Oakenshield will die in the last installment. So I have to derive my pleasure from seeing how it all unfolds, and most of it unfolds strikingly well.

There is the matter of falls from great heights, which bothered a friend of mine. At one point Bilbo falls, spinning head over heels in a way that will surely crush his skull when he lands. But we cut away, and when we come back, he is coming to, uninjured. Soon after, the whole company of dwarfs falls just as far, somehow clinging to a collapsing bridge. When James Bond does something like that, as in Skyfall, it bothers me a lot. When Batman does it, it doesn’t bother me much … because he’s a superhero and I just don’t give a shit about superheroes. When a fantasy being like a hobbit or a dwarf does it, I really don’t mind. Maybe different laws of physics apply in Middle Earth.

It’s almost worth it just for the scenery. These days it’s impossible to know just how much is actual and how much is added in. New Zealand has some incredible vistas, but I don’t think they could possibly be as extensive as we see here. There’s nowhere on Earth that has no many towering waterfalls, for instance. The art design is just way beyond terrific.

When the credits started to roll I checked the timer on the DVD. There was still ten minutes to go! This CGI stuff is still quite labor intensive. Hundreds and hundreds of people worked to bring all those orcs to life, and paint those landscapes. All in all, I had a good time. I recommend it.