Monday, 24 December 2012

An unexpected delight

Hurray!  The world didn’t end!  To celebrate, last night we went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  

I wasn’t expecting to like it much.  I saw some clips previously that looked heavily epic, if you’ll excuse the term.  After three years of Lord of the Rings (which I loved), I’m a little tired of epic.  Especially as I now can’t watch Lord of the Rings on my home television.  It belongs on the big screen, which slightly ruins it.  So I went to see The Hobbit tentatively.

Before I first saw The Fellowship of the Ring, I didn’t really know a lot about fantasy.  I was suffering from writers block and then I was introduced to Middle Earth.  I remember especially the moment that Gandalf lit his staff to reveal the insides of the Mines of Moria.  My usually noisy mind (dissecting dialogue, commenting on direction, telling me what’s going to happen next) was made utterly speechless.  That silence in my head had never happened before, nor has it happened since.

The Hobbit was a fun and wonderful reminder of why I love fantasy so very much.  A reluctant, young Bilbo Baggins is dragged into a quest by wizard Gandalf the Grey to help twelve dwarves reclaim the lost dwarven kingdom of Erebor in The Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug.
It’s a traditional fantasy – dwarves and dragons.  Now, I feel I must be honest.  I have not read the book (yet), so please bear this in mind when you read the following.

As with the Lord of the Ring films, The Hobbit is visually a masterpiece.  The scenery is definitely epic and the CGI is brilliant.  The detail of the characters is amazing, although some development is lacking in places.  The Hobbit, unlike Lord of the Rings, is a children’s fantasy and as such contains warm humour and bright colours.  It is fast paced throughout most of the film and during the rare slow moments you can rely on a fast paced action sequence being just round the corner.

As I mentioned, character development was lacking in places.  This is probably due to the number of dwarves present rather than poor writing.  Thirteen dwarves means that it’s difficult to know each and every one, even in such a long film.  Especially when there is also a hobbit, Gollum, three wizards, a Lady and Lord of elves, three trolls, an goblin king and an orc villain...
A selection of dwarves stand out;

  • Thorin (Richard Armitage), king of the dwarves,
  • Balin (Ken Stott), Thorin’s advisor and friend,
  • Bofur (James Nesbitt), a comic and outspoken dwarf who seems to be the first to develop any kind of affection towards Bilbo,
  •  Dwalin (Graham McTavish), the warrior and possibly the biggest,
  • Ori (Adam Brown), the youngest and
  • Kili (Aidan Turner), yes Mitchell from Being Human!

I would hope that the characters of the dwarves will develop further in the next two films, of course.   In the meantime, not knowing all of the dwarves well does not hinder an enjoyment of the film.  Rather, in this film they give the impression of what it means to be a dwarf – brave, merry, honourable, to enjoy good food and a good fight, stubborn, kind and gentle.

Thorin Oakensheild
Gandalf (Ian Mckellen) is a different wizard to one we meet in The Fellowship of the Ring.  He is younger and a little naive.  He allows his fear to show and therefore his vulnerabilities.  He is overall a more likeable wizard.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved him in Lord of the Rings, but I like him more in The Hobbit.

Bilbo Baggins is played brilliantly by Martin Freeman.  The mannerisms that Ian Holm introduced to Bilbo in the Lord of the Rings is carried through and fully developed.  Bilbo is a likeable but reluctant hero.  He doesn’t seem to realise just how brave he is.  He is a kind hobbit but at the same time there is a pompous, selfishness there which is probably the weakness that leads to him stealing the ring from Gollum.  It is that same pompousness that keeps him with the dwarves even when they doubt them.

Yes, Gollum is there too of course. The 'riddles in the dark' scene between Gollum and Bilbo is wonderful and the CGI of Gollum has improved (if possible).  Gollum is already complete by this film but it feels that a huge emphasis was put on his scenes, perhaps because he is such a fan favourite.

My main issue with The Hobbit was the similarities with the Lord of the Rings.  Of course it must feel familiar with the settings and music, as it is set in the same place.  As we first see Rivendell and the beautiful music of the Rivendell elves picks up, I found myself smiling.  Later as we cut to the dwarves marching across the snowy mountain tops to that same music that followed the Fellowship, my heart sank.  I am tired of the epic nature of the Lord of the Rings and perhaps these familiar scenes and music stirred these memories within me.  They were short lived however, as the next scene drew us closer to the warm nature of the dwarves.

The Hobbit has been accused of having scenes which are too long.  This is true in places.   A lot of the scenes could easily have been cut.  To be honest, I only vaguely noticed them.  The film is mostly fast paced and my mind only wandered a few times during the more lengthy scenes.  The most boring scene was one in Rivendell as Gandalf, Saruman, Elrond and Galadriel discuss a new darkness looming.  While it was interesting to see Galadriel’s relationship with Gandalf and a non-evil (perhaps?) Saruman, I just wasn’t interested.  I wanted to be back with Bilbo and the dwarves, on their journey to reclaim their home.  However I’m sure that this dull scene will play its part in the following two films.

Speaking of Galadriel, where are the strong female characters in the travelling group?  I know that Tolkien could write them.  Galadriel, Arwen and Eowyn are proof of this, yet there were no females in the Fellowship and there are no females in the travelling group in The Hobbit.  Ok, so it’s supposed to represent male comradeship but what’s wrong with a female dwarf helping to reclaim her home?

I thoroughly enjoyed The Hobbit.  I sat down in the cinema telling myself it was ok if I didn’t enjoy it and that I wouldn’t force myself to see the next two films.  Now I can’t wait to see the next one.  By the last scene I was hungry for more.

Last week I tried hard not to listen to a man at work telling a colleague about the film.  I was fearful of spoilers but needn’t of worried.  However, he did say that he just couldn’t get on with a film that had giant eagles in it.  Last night, as the giant eagles came into view, I was reminded of this and thought to myself, what?  I don’t understand.  I honestly don’t understand how anyone could not like this film, never mind the giant eagles.

Radagast the Brown
Yet, I am the only person I know who has loved this film.  Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe this is a bad, boring and long film.  I was carried away by the premise, by the new characters in a familiar setting, by the connections between The Hobbit and the Fellowship of the Ring, by the simple and wonderful story concept, by the warmth and comradery of the dwarves.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, in the Fellowship of the Ring my mind was rendered speechless by the sight of the mines of Moria.  Something similar happened at the very last scene in The Hobbit.  I won’t tell you what the scene was but suddenly my mind fell silent.  And then it uttered three words to me; Oh.  My.  God.

I should leave it there but I want to mention one more thing.  As a writer, when faced with a good film, my overactive mind begins to create a new character.  Who would I be in this film?  What would I be, who would I be and what would her story be?
I had these thoughts during Lord of the Rings and I had them during The Hobbit.  What a conflict, surely I cannot be in both.  Which would I prefer?  Oh, that’s easy.  Definately a female warrior dwarf to a Lady of Rohan.

Which would you prefer to be in?

Merry Christmas everyone!

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