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Ringer Reviews - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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Ringer Review - NAME

Mark Sommer

Date Posted: 2012-12-16
Tolkien Fan Level: 8
Film Format Seen? 3D 48 fps
Will view again in a different format? Yes

A Pretty-Much-As-I-Expected Movie
But the journey back was an overall positive adventure
(originally published on

I am the guy who has been providing HJ’s news coverage about the Hobbit movies for over four years. Sometimes I hate my job.

Well, not exactly hate. And it’s not because of all the insanely long hours I have been putting into it this week. Squeezing in a road trip to screen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Wednesday evening, and then having to get up early the next morning to go to my “regular” job, is exhausting, but that kind of pressure once in awhile doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is knowing pretty much what is coming. Which is hard to avoid when I have read literally hundreds of articles about the films and seen scores of video from the film, as well as listening to the soundtrack.

Listening to all the noise these past fours years, it has been difficult not to become a bit jaded. There have been some surprises along the way, to be sure. But all along the journey, I have pretty much had a good idea of what Peter Jackson would do with the films. Watching the film confirmed what I had predicted earlier this week.

I expect to enjoy the Hobbit movies as much as I enjoyed seeing the original trilogy marathon. I’m sure I will be annoyed at some things Jackson will do, as I was annoyed again yesterday at parts of the trilogy. But I’m sure I will also be impressed at what I see. I will enjoy the cool, awesome, and epic. But I hope I also come back again from there with something more.

No matter what I think about how Jackson has handled (or mishandled) Tolkien’s Middle-earth, he is a masterful filmmaker, and this latest glimpse (if I can use that word for a nearly-three-hour spectacle) is at least as remarkable as those we experienced a decade ago. And the technological advances in the special effects department are sure to please most fans.

I am on record as not being a fan of 3D. I personally find it distracting, and my first viewing of the film was no exception—even with the new HFR (high frame rate) magic. The inside scenes were especially awkward for me. It took quite awhile before I became comfortable with it all, but once I settled in, I was able to get caught up in the story without the 3D being the elephant in the room. There were a few instances where objects were seen floating over the audience, but the filmmakers were judicious in how this was used, and I actually enjoyed it.

But the bottom line for me, as I have said elsewhere, is not the awesome effects, but the story about the title character, the hobbit Bilbo. How did Jackson and crew handle this?

In dividing the story into three parts, the writers had to make choices on how to make each part complete—an entire story within a story. This affects the character arc of the protagonist. Specifically for An Unexpected Journey, by the end of the movie Bilbo reaches a point of being admired by the dwarves that he does not attain by that point in the book. Which is not so bad in itself, if it were not for the way in which he attains it.

Tolkien’s Bilbo is no warrior, and he never becomes one. He earns the dwarves’ respect in more subtle ways. Jackson’s Bilbo, on the other hand, has a rather berserker-like moment, gaining him the admiration of Thorin. Ironically, the screenwriters, not Tolkien, are the ones who put these words in Gandalf’s mouth:

True courage is about knowing, not when to take a life, but when to spare one.

Unlike some dialog placed in his mouth by the filmmakers, these words of Gandalf are ones Tolkien would most likely agree with. Tolkien’s hobbits are not great warriors; their strength lies not in being able to fight with swords, but in being able to think with their brains, and act prudently from a wise heart. Jackson and crew find the words to express this, but are unable to back up the words by what their hobbits do.

The Lord of the Rings movies are, in my opinion, at their best when they trust Tolkien. They get into trouble when they don’t. As I expected, in this first Hobbit movie, Jackson only trusts Tolkien to a point. He is a fan, but he is not a believer. Not that Tolkien is infallible, or that he cannot be improved upon. But Jackson has not proved, at least to my mind, that his version of Middle-earth is better than that in the books. He has two more movies to show me I’m wrong.

The bottom line for me after my first viewing of the film is this: I love Jackson’s Middle-earth. I am sure I will return there again and again. (I did say “first viewing.”) But I love Tolkien’s better.

The Ratings
The Other Ratings
Martin Freeman 's performance as Bilbo Baggins?
Richard Armitage 's performance as Thorin?
The Overall representation of The Dwarves ?
Andy Serkis' performance as Gollum?
Ian McKellen's performance as Gandalf?
Bilbo's retelling of the history of Erebor and of Thror/Thrain/Thorin
The Eagles rescue sequence?
The Goblin King ?
Initial impression of Thranduil?
Hugo Weaving's performance as Elrond?
Radagast's portrayal in the movie?
The representation of Goblintown?
Cate Blanchett's performance as Galadriel?
The Bag End Supper scene?
The scene of the Trolls?
The representation of the Arkenstone?
The Stone Giants?
Escape from the Goblin cave?
Riddles in the Dark scene?
The return to Rivendell?
The attack on the party by the Wargs
The first glimpses of Smaug?
The ending of the movie; in regards to leading well into the next film, and serving as a good ending point.
The overall pace of the film
Peter Jackson's vision in bringing the Hobbit to the big screen.

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