Thorin, Oakenshield
It’s rare that I am able to convince friends to come with me on a midnight journey to see a film on opening night, especially when we all have to go to work the next morning. Yet there we were, five intrepid souls siting in extra comfy seats waiting with great anticipation to see ten minutes of Star Trek: Into Darkness. Oh, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Let me get this out of the way now. Tolkien’s universe is devoid of minorities and extremely light on female representation. Were it up to him, The Hobbit would be a homogeneous sausage-fest of dude bros. The screen writers saw fit to include Galadriel in the film in a scene that doesn’t happen in the book just make believe that women had a place in Middle Earth. Cate Blanchett completely owns the screen, but for the most part, this is a movie about dude bros bro-ing out as hard as they can. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot of fun.  It’s not like I spent the entire film yelling at the screen for not including any women or minorities in the cast. But in a magical world of fantasy, it’s a little boring that aside from height variations and clothing, all of our heroes kind of look the same.

With that caveat, here are my thoughts. There my be some spoilers, but really, this book is 75 years old, there’s the cartoon movie from 1977, and you’ve probably read it in your mythology classes at some point.

Story Within a Story

One of my favorite literary devices is when characters tell each other stories. It happens a few times during the course of the movie.  The film opens with the older Bilbo that we met in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, played by Ian Holm, sitting down to write about his first great adventure. It’s a wonderful way to tie the character to the Lord of the Rings.

Later, on the trail to the Lonely Mountain, Balin tells the story of how Thorin got his title “Oakenshield.” It’s my absolute favorite part of the movie. It’s a powerful story that explains a great deal about why I want to call him Thorin Evergrim. The guy never smiles.

We get another story from Radagast the Brown, a wizard who watches over the green forest. He recounts his encounter with an evil force that heralds something much darker than anyone can imagine. But these are rumblings of things to come in the next two films.

Hobbits Are Invisible

Though the book and this movie are both ostensibly Bilbo’s tale, I really felt more of a connection with Thorin. This seemed more like Thorin’s story than Bilbo’s which speaks to one of the major problems of this film. It felt a bit sprawling and unfocused and Bilbo kind of got lost in all the confusion. Certainly, his scenes with Golum are the stuff of performance legend, but even then, Golum stole the spotlight away from our clever, yet trixy hobbitses.

Still, I think Martin Freeman is perfect as Bilbo. I love his facial expressions. You can see the internal conflict in his eyes, that desire to live a simple life battling with the pull of adventure. I’m hoping he’ll take more of a central role in the next film because he’s doing some amazing things with Bilbo.

Baaaa, baba baaaa, baba baaaa, Duna naaaa, nana naaaa, nana naaaa

Though we don’t get to hear the fanfare from the Lord of the Rings trilogy that I’ve been humming the entire weekend, some of the audio cues hearken back to that original trilogy. The violin solo we hear whenever anyone talks about the ring itself finds its way into The Hobbit. And the dark horn call we hear when the uruk hai are on screen is echoed when we see warg-mounted orcs.

The main theme is taken from the song the dwarfs sing in this trailer:

It’s haunting and sorrowful. But it swells with power that seems so appropriate for the dwarfs.

RUN!

There’s a scene when the party runs away from all the goblins and I couldn’t help but thing, “haven’t we seen this before?” It will be a nice kind of book end that will visually tie this movie to the The Fellowship of the Ring, but I kind of felt meh about the bit. Also, the heavy use of CG in some parts jumped me out of the experience. I don’t know, maybe it was the fact that it was about 2:45am when it happened. Maybe it will be less annoying when seen altogether with all six movies (oh man, that’s going to be so much fun!), but it seemed a little, I don’t know, forced?

An Unfinished Journey

Overall, while I really enjoyed the movie, I felt like I didn’t see a self-contained film. Lots of dangling threads to tie up in the next two. I wonder what it was like for people who are completely new to the entire Tolkien film world because I just can’t judge it on its own. The end of the film didn’t really feel like an ending, more like a chapter break. And while I think it will work amazingly well when all three are seen in one nine hour marathon when they’re all complete, it left me wanting. I guess that’s a good thing because it virtually guarantees that I’ll be in line for a ticket when The Desolation of Smaug drops sometime next year.

With all its warts, I definitely think it’s worth seeing in the theater. The IMAX 3D experience is absolutely wonderful. It really draws you into the world. I didn’t see it in the new frame rate so I have no idea what that’s like. But this is the kind of movie that must be experienced in a theater. Perfect fun for the holidays.