There and Back Again…Well, partway there at least.

So I am I big Tolkein fan from waaay back – I can’t even remember how old I was when I first read the Hobbit, but I do know that I have read both it and the Lord of the Rings trilogy annually (once I first, finally, got through the Council of Elrond *snore*), as well as having read/owning copies of The Silmarillion, The Children of Húrin, and Christopher Tolkein’s 12 companion books based off his father’s notes…

So when I say I really enjoyed The Hobbit, it should be understood that I probably would have still enjoyed it if they had re-cast Bilbo Baggins to be played by Justin Beiber, and for him to have won the ring after having a rap dance-battle with Gollum (actually…I would pay to see that dance off…), just because it was bringing the Hobbit to the big screen!

Since Australia was literally the second last country in the entire world to see the Hobbit in the cinema I had heard and read a number of people’s reactions to the movie, well before going to see it myself. The biggest concern that most people seemed to have was over the length of the film; fingers being pointed at a lack of judicial editing throughout and in particular a handful of scenes that were charged with going for too long, or which could even have been cut from the movie altogether. While as the Tolkein fan, I was overjoyed by seeing all these scenes in their minutia, I have to admit that I walked out of the cinema thinking that I had just seen the extended edition, rather than the theatrical version (which gives me a cold shiver contemplating whether a Director’s Cut extended edition is still to be released 0_0). A lot of the scenes did go for a fair bit longer than they probably had to, and certainly longer than they would have done if they were made at the same time as the original LOTR trilogy. The ‘Unexpected Party’ at Bag end was particularly egregious in this regard – while the arrival of all the dwarves is treated in the book extremely quickly, with Bilbo running about in a flap the entire time and never getting a moment to collect himself, the mere arrival of all the characters takes an almost excruciatingly long time in the film, where we get treated to several scenes consisting solely of dwarves eating. It really did seem that a lot of the content which made it into the theatre remained solely for a bit of padding, to ensure that there would seem to be enough content to justify stretching it out into three movies…

Also particularly jarring to me was the use of the aged Bilbo and young Frodo at the start of the movie to tie the scene directly to the opening shire scene of The Fellowship of the Ring – I felt that if it had to be there, then it really should have been set a little earlier in the timeline (not on the day that the original movie began), and for crying out loud, if you’re going to do the throwback at least make Bilbo look as old as he did in that first movie! Ah, details.

Another thing that I heard criticised (although I wholly reject) was the characterisation of Radagast the Brown. Whilst it is true that he makes no appearance in the book as in the movie, I feel that he was a very refreshing and very, well – fun. And that is the essence of The Hobbit after all; it is much more child-friendly than the LOTR (being written for children, after all) and it needed to have a way of tying in the corruption of the Greenwood/Mirkwood (although the book did suggest that the corruption was very well established by the events of Bilbo’s adventure) with the new rise of Sauron that Radagast’s antics in Dol Goldur achieved nicely. Also, I missed him after he was cut out of the LOTR!

Another brilliantly done segment was the stories told by Bilbo and Balin about the loss of Erebor and the fight for Moria (probably best the Dwarves didn’t get in there after fleeing from one terrifying, fiery creature…) – the screenplay for the coming of Smaug was breathtaking and tense, and my heart swelled at the moment when I saw Thorin earn the title ‘Oakenshield’. These were particularly good for showing what the world is outside the shire, as well – we know from our watching of the original LOTR movies that the shire is such an insular corner of Middle Earth, and these memories highlighted so much that was happening beyond its borders – the flight of dragons, wars between Orcs and Dwarves, and particularly the part of the resentment between the Dwarves and the Elves (which we first saw in The Fellowship from Gimli, son of Gloin to Legolas of the woodland realm [Mirkwood] after all) – more of which we can expect in the next film, I wager :-)

I also enjoyed the use of song throughout the movie; in the books, the narrative is frequently broken apart with lines of verse sung or recited by the main characters – little to none of this was seen in the original LOTR trilogy, with a few scattered songs by Aragorn and Merry/Pippin across the movies. The treatment of the songs as events in their own right (‘we must away’ being sung while Bilbo has retreated to his room was just great, and the goony dances during ‘Break the Plates’ and the Goblin King’s song were very fun) lent a very Tolkeinesque feel to the film, which was great to see. Also Inextricably Tolkein was the riddle game played between Bilbo and Gollum – that was very exciting to see, not dressed up for Hollywood with swords flashing or dramatic flamboyance (except for an apparently genetic trait of the Bagginses to fall backwards and throw their Jewellery straight into the air above them as they do so, catching it on their finger as it falls…). I had been very worried that this scene might have been fiddles with and was relieved to see it stay so close to the source material!

Overall, I thought that the Hobbit was a great adventure – of course it has its flaws, particularly perhaps for those who aren’t Tolkein addicts such as myself, but I think most people would be able to walk away with an enjoyable experience; even if a sometimes tedious one ;-)

Terence MacManus: Dec 30, 2012.