By now, if you have not been living in a hole in the ground, you will know that the Hobbit is the prequel to the Lord of the Rings. You may also know that it has been vivisected into three segments… the first of which Peter Jackson has entitled ‘An Unexpected Journey’. Here’s where I tell you the journey takes some two hours and 46 minutes. This is not a children’s film, I repeat not a children’s film, and not just because of its length. There are in addition so many scary video game like scenes with orcs and trolls and goblins, and so much violence in the middle of the film that frankly it’s not appropriate for small children. And this is really too bad because ‘the Hobbit’ was and is at heart a children’s story, which to some extent makes it different from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
I was having an exchange with my good friend Richard Bauckham about the review I have done of Devin Brown’s book The Christian World of the Hobbit. I tend to agree with him that Brown has read too much theology into the Hobbit, and here is where I say that Peter Jackson has read back too much Lord of the Rings into the movie the Hobbit. Apart from the wonderful opening segment in Hobbiton where the dwarves are introduced in the house of Bilbo Baggins with the help of Gandalf, very little of what follows is upbeat enough, friendly enough, or violence free enough to make this a whole family film. At least Jackson doesn’t read back into the telling of the Hobbit thus far Bilbo’s later obsession with the ring.
What should we think of the casting? On this score the film is excellent. Martin Freeman makes for an excellent young Bilbo and plays his part well. The dwarves are visually humorous and have their moments as well but apart from Thorin Oxenshield their characters are not yet fully developed. Too much time is spent running away from orcs and the like and too little time on character revelations. Those who reprise old roles such as Cate Blanchette and Ian McKellen and Hugo Weaving are good, but mostly, apart from McKellen, they only make all too brief cameo appearances. The scene in Rivendell could have been riveting if only developed more.
Then there is the issue of the cinematography. I saw the film in Real 3d in the 58 frames per second mode with my wife. It made the film look more like a live TV show happening in my own living room and there were moments where I was sure I was about to be squashed by a giant troll which would have been droll. The new format was alright, and I realize it is ground-breaking, but whether it is worth $10 a ticket here in Lex or more elsewhere can be debated.And then there is the credulity factor. It is a delicate matter to balance verisimilitude on the one hand and suspending your disbelief on the other. What I mean is that there are so many scenes in this film where the heroes are falling and should have been smashed to bits, but they walk away most of the time with hardly a scratch, belying their mortal conditions. At one point when a giant troll falls on the lot of the dwarves, one of the dwarves says “you’ve got to be joking!” This is how I felt at various points in the film when our heroes appeared to be far too indestructible and not very vulnerable. One of the major themes of the film namely ‘that it takes more courage and wisdom to know when to spare a life than when to take one’ should have led to less video game violence in the film. The theme does however come properly to light in the most dramatic encounter in the film.
The important scene where Bilbo finds the ring and encounters Gollum, complete with riddling game is very good. It is not rushed, and of course it is singularly important to the later story in the Ring trilogy. Gollum/ Smeagal here is still the split personality creature, not yet wholly gone over to the dark side of his being. And importantly we see various scenes where Bilbo is courageous in various ways, striving to save and spare lives rather than take them.
Of course it is not fair to judge the first part of a three part film as if it were the whole shebang. In my view things would have gotten off to a better start by: 1) editing down the film so it is shorter, and 2) editing out the repetitive scenes especially under the earth in goblin land…., and 3) bringing in some lighter touches like the story of Tom Bombadil, a very pleasant character indeed. As Bilbo himself would say— you can’t tell whether an adventure is bad or good until you see how it turns out. Well, we’ve gone ‘there’ but not ‘back again’ yet (‘there’ being Erebor where the dwarves used to have a home). So we must abide our souls in patience and see what revelations happen in part two next summer.