The Hobbit

So I’ve just returned from The Hobbit. I feel a lot like I did when I saw Dark Knight Rises. I like this movie. If you’re one of the six people who value my opinion on movies, I think you will like it too. But this movie’s kind of a mess. I can really see where people are coming from giving this movie poor reviews. I like this movie for the same reasons I liked Watchmen. It combines an extreme and obvious reverence for the source material with a great cast. Everyone just worked too damn hard for this to be anything but a good movie. Really that’s the extent to which I can offer praise. This is an amazing world with humor and action and it’s just wonderful to be back. One thing I definitely love about this movie is the theme song, the instrumental version of “Misty Mountains Cold” that plays throughout. With the soaring brass and percussion it really feels like a Dwarf song and it makes this feel different than the original trilogy. It feels like we’re going to a different part of Middle-Earth and there’s a wonderful sense of connection like we’re back in a real place.

Another thing I like about this movie that got mentioned on CNN is the change in the scope of the story. In the original story, the dwarves are questing to recover their treasure. They want their money and jewels. They can’t straight up fight Smaug, so they hire a burglar to steal back their treasure. In this movie, they do an amazing job of painting a picture of the entire Dwarven race as landless (aside from the Iron Hills and Blue Mountains which are mentioned). Bilbo even says in a moment of unintentional racism, Dwarves don’t have a home. Dwarves live in other people’s land. In this movie, the dwarves are questing to retake Erebor. They’re not sure Smaug is even still there. They want to make a home for their people. On the one hand, this is a great plot that feels more satisfying that the standard (post-Hobbit) fantasy of “Kill Dragon, Take Horde.” On the other, why do they need a Burglar when they’re not going for money, they’re going for vengeance, fire, and blood?

For anyone who wants to cry spoilers, this book was released in 1937. Fuck you.

I realized we were in trouble a few minutes in when Ian Holm complains to Elijah Wood that Lobelia Baggins (of the Sackville-Baggins) stole his silverware years back. That’s the kind of line you would expect in an extended edition. In fact, the Sackville-Baggins are in the extended edition of Fellowship of the Ring. And it really sets a tone for the rest of the movie. I love the extended Lord of the Rings movies. But when you watch them, you can tell why that stuff was cut. It’s completely ancillary. Does it affect the movie that Mithral comes from Moria, Ent-Water makes Hobbits grow, or that the Army of the Dead captures the Corsair Ships? No to all three. These are straight out of the book scenes that add flavor and a pinch of glee to those of us who read the books. Do they impact Frodo and Aragorn’s adventures in the slightest? No. Cut ‘em.

Let us take Hot Fuzz for a moment. Hot Fuzz has the tightest screenplay I’ve ever seen in a movie. Every scene, every word, every joke, every character has an indispensible role in telling that story and making that movie. Also take Dark Knight Rises or Pirates of the Caribbean 4. These movies are bloated with plot details. It may be crucial to the story that Marion Collitard is a ninja or that you need magic silver goblets to drink from the Fountain of Youth, but there’s a better, simpler way to tell those stories. Elements could be changed (not merely cut) to make those movies better. The hobbit does both. There are things that could be cut like the Necromancer and the whole prologue before Martin Freeman shows up. The details about Orcrist and Glamdring are ancillary, but they’re too tied into the movie so cutting them would be awkward. I cannot think for a second that there will be an extended version of The Hobbit. What in the hell could’ve possibly be left on the cutting room floor? I did notice that the scene from the trailer where Bilbo sees Narsil in Rivendell was gone. That scene must’ve REALLY gone nowhere. I’m guessing the things that got cut were call-forwards to the Lord of the Rings. They included a couple of these and it made me cringe. The first time Bilbo puts on the ring he falls and it falls onto his finger like Frodo. Worst of all is Gandalf using a butterfly to summon the eagles. That goes on for like 30 seconds. We get it. Moths and Butterflies talk to eagles. This one pissed me off more than is probably appropriate.

I would have to say the biggest albatross around this movie’s neck is the subplot involving the Necromancer. We’ve all read the Hobbit, but allow me to spare you the trip to Wikipedia. In the background of the Hobbit, references are occasionally made to “The Necromancer.” Gandalf receives the Key to Erebor from Thorin’s father there, and at the end of the book we’re informed that he was defeated. This is all the detail there in The Hobbit. Behind the scenes, the fortress has a name, Dol Guldur. The Necromancer is Sauron. This battle is one of the more plot relevant offscreen battles in fiction’s history when viewed in light of the subsequent Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I referred to this as a subplot, but it’s clear Peter Jackson thinks this is a “B” Plot. The Rebels attacking the shield generator on Endor while Luke confronts the Emperor while Lando attacks the second Death Star. These are A, B, and C plots. Each one is critical to the story. In Scott Pilgrim, Sex Bob-Omb is trying to get a record deal with G-Man. This is a subplot. It’s incidental to the main plot, Scott defeating Ramona’s seven evil ex-boyfriends (exes).

The Hobbit really begins a lot of the tropes we associate with medieval fantasy. It sounds cliché, it’s not, it was first. A group of adventurers go on a quest to recover a heap of treasure from a dragon. Tolkien added loads of great details, but that’s the story. Anything not related to that end is a subplot. The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings are loaded with these things and they offer flavor, but in a movie they’re kind of distracting. Fighting the goblins in the Misty Mountains, Gollum, Beorn, Mirkwood, these are all subplots. Because all of these come back at the end of the story, these subplots paid off. There was a reason for them to be included.

What I’m trying to say an incredibly long winded fashion befitting An Unexpected Journey is that the Necromancer plot feels tacked on, pointless, and is poorly done. It sucks. It will eventually have something to do with Bilbo’s quest to Erebor, but this plot should’ve been left on the cutting room floor. One minute we’re walking through the countryside with Gandalf and Friends. Then someone says “Radagast the Brown.” Cut to the 7th Doctor as the 3rd Wizard. It’s a tangent, and it feels like a tangent. This random, goofy ass character is pulled out of nowhere, he’s not even in the original book except by offhand reference. Radagast is the Jar Jar of this movie. He’s covered in bird shit for fuck’s sake which randomly disappears for one scene before returning. His job in this movie is to stumble across Dol Guldur, get attacked by the Witch King, find the Morgul Blade (used to stab Frodo in Fellowship), which gives proof to Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond, and Saruman that shit is going down in Dol Guldur. But unless he’s teleporting (he is a wizard after all) his real role is to destroy tension going from Mirkwood to our heroes. This tells me that if a crazy guy covered in bird shit can take a rabbit drawn sled from Mirkwood to Rivendell, our 13 heavily armed dwarven commandos are going to be just fine.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see Christopher Lee in this movie, but their whole War Council scene where they discuss the situation is pointless bullshit.

Really that’s the worst of it. If those two scenes were gone the movie would be far better. Now for some nitpicks and randomness. The movie adds in Azog of Moria as kind of a rival to Thorin. This was largely done to give a justification to blow money on the Battle of Five Armies at the end of the trilogy. I’ll get back to this subplot in a minute. I actually like this addition. It gives a face and a motivation to otherwise nameless enemies. Although they keep referring to him as “The Pale Orc” because Azog is…well, pale. Not unlike that commander orc from Return of the King who was never given a name in movie. But its like, why do they never call him Azog? Are they afraid we’ll forget who the fuck Azog is? He’s the only white orc…who is in charge for some reason….racism…

This movie is also surprisingly violent once they get into the Misty Mountains. Gollum brains a goblin with a rock singing while he does it. That was kind of fucked up. It’s basically the same as the fish song from Two Towers. Except, every time he would slap the fish, he’s caving in the goblin’s skull before he eats him. It’s a little dark. Also the Dwarf Escape after Gandalf saves everyone from the Great Goblin. This is something I’d like to coin Dwarf-Fu. It’s connected with their ability to throw and catch plates. I like to think dwarves have a supernatural ability for physics. When these guys go on the run they go on a goddamn killing spree. I’m thinking the body count for this movie has to be between 60-80. A lot of this is the fact that the Goblins are minions to use 4th Edition D&D terms. Orcrist and Glamdring can kill goblins by being waved in their general direction. Bilbo is not left out of the action either, towards the end of the movie when Thorin confronts Azog, Bilbo rescues him by shoving another orc out of the way and straight up shanks the motherfucker. It’s pretty goddamn brutal.

I said aloud in the theater that this movie ends on a gigantic cocktease. This is actually not true. The movie ends with the Dwarves spotting Erebor from the Eagle’s aerie. Technically Fellowship did the same thing with Mordor. My argument was that the movie ends with Smaug’s eye opening. I said great, see you in 2014. This isn’t accurate. Chapter 12 of the book ends with Smaug going off to roast Lake Town. This is after his big conversation with Bilbo. So its inaccurate to say the movie ends on a cocktease because in the next movie they (probably) get to Erebor and Smaug.

When I mentioned Azog and motivation that brings me to something else weird about the Hobbit that I like. Although the Hobbit is as mentioned about fortune and glory, the last 6 chapters are heavy political intrigue. It’s kind of cool that in this story that establishes so many fantasy tropes, Tolkien briefly pulls a George RR Martin and has Smaug lecture Bilbo about the logistics of transporting 1/14th of the gold to the Shire. Then Smaug is killed and then the Men and Elves get into a pissing contest about who gets what share of the (literal) mountain of money in Erebor. There’s negotiations, side go back and forth, then goblins show up and they forget their differences to have a huge fight. Azog will of course eventually command this evil army. But the transition in story is definitely strange. I think I’ll like it.

So that’s my review. Final thoughts: See it, but expect not to love it.