Editor Note: Our latest staff review comes from the man behind the Collecting the Precious posts, staffer, Elessar. As always if you’re still to see the film and are avoiding spoilers, please be aware that there are spoilers all through Elessars review.
Here we are a year later following the fantastic film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The waiting is over and the time to immerse ourselves in another movie about Middle-earth has begun. I, like so many of you have been counting down the days until it was time, and after seeing it twice I’ve written my personal review.
This movie starts out with a nice slow moment but from there it picks up, quickly. It’s a nice change, I think for folks who didn’t enjoy the slower pace of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. There’s lots of great stuff in this movie and some stuff that maybe isn’t so great. I will say this movie is going to set the discussions ablaze with how much it does veer off the normal path of Tolkien, but I do feel it still captures the proper feel of the world I love. The end is classic and I love the two very different audience reactions I’ve had so far, with one of them being ,“WHAT!”; while the other was totally silent. Overall, I think this movie is a total winner and I will be seeing it multiple times before it leaves.
Instead of going on a long review like normal I wanted to break things down by place and character.
Bree: I love that they used this as the opening of the film. For one it was nice to be back in Bree again and it was nice to see this bit of written material come to life. It’s funny to see in the sixty years between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that Bree hasn’t changed much. I also enjoyed seeing Peter Jackson use his cameo in Bree, much like during The Fellowship of the Ring.
Beorn: Don’t blink or you’re going to miss this. Seriously, I don’t think they could have made this any shorter if they tried. I’m not a big fan of the character in the book but I think we should have gotten a little more development of this area. I actually rather enjoyed the introduction of the character and how they get to his house. We’ve already done the whole mini-Dwarven intro so there is no need to do it again. I have grown to like the look of Beorn. I think I especially feel this way after seeing him in action and I do want a statue of him from Weta. I will say one of the looks in the new Weta Art book would have been a better choice. As far as his bear look it was pretty cool! Super detailed and look likes a giant were-bear.
Mirkwood: It is as creepy as I created in my mind. So that for me was a real treat to see on the big screen. I actually like the change in that basically they get lost because of the spores in the air instead of Bombur falling in the stream. The Spiders during this sequence are as amazing as I could have ever hoped they would be. They looked so good and gave me some major cases of the shakes. I can think of one family member who is really going to hate that sequence. I also loved how Jackson showed that the spiders talked. Tying it to Bilbo putting on the Ring and it really comes off and fits within the world. If you listen you can hear the word Attercop mentioned.
Bilbo naming sting here was another moment that I was so looking forward to and it was pulled off so well. I did enjoy them showing some effects of The One Ring on Bilbo, starting the hold it will have on him when we see old Bilbo in The Fellowship of the Ring. I also like the change in that the Elves help kill the spiders, but capture them then take them to Thranduil’s halls. This makes more sense than eventually being caught chasing the Elves as they party in Mirkwood.
Elven King’s Halls: Such a beautiful looking place. Better looking in fact than what I had playing in my head. The intricate wooden cuttings were pretty darn impressive. His halls are every bit as good looking as Lothlorien especially when you factor in the stone work you get within this realm. There is one part early in this sequence that is just really silly and has no place in this world, between Kili and Tauriel. Its really rather eye rolling to be honest. What I did like was the interaction between Thranduil and Thorin. There is some real tension between these two characters just from what we saw in film one. You also get to see a brutal scar that Thranduil can hide with magic but I want to know more and how he got that.
From there I love that you get a great conversation between Kili and Tauriel where these two begin to understand each other. They begin to let go of the hate that the two races have for each other. It’s a pretty nice little sequence and the polar opposite of what you see with Thorin/Thranduil. Legolas sees all of this and is far less understanding, because of his hate for the Dwarven race that was handed down by daddy. Then you get the drunken Elves sequence, which I was glad to see since its matches the book. Bilbo gets a chance here to show his burglar skills by stealing the keys and getting the Dwarves out of another mess. The escape from Thranduil’s halls is classic with how they think Bilbo is crazy then Bilbo realizing he forgot one thing with his plan.
Thranduil: Like Beorn we really don’t get much of him in this movie but we do get more of him than we do in the book. In the book you do get a feel that he is kind of a jerk and that is really played upon in the movie. It works for me because the Mirkwood Elves are a less wise as we’re told. As I mentioned earlier his argument with Thorin is great and his interrogation of the Orc a little later is the cherry on top of this character.
Barrels out of Bond: Really a non-stop action piece but its pretty fun. I’m actually glad they made it this way to be honest. It would have been a little boring for fans if they had just easily floated down the river. You get the the Orcs lead by Bolg chasing them and the Elves lead by Tauriel/Legolas chasing them. So you’re bound to get some wackiness. The cool thing about the Elves during this is you see that Tauriel can hold her own with Legolas.
Both of these characters pull off some pretty slick moves and keep you glued to the action. There are two moments that when put together I think are a little too much or could be a little too much. Bombur pulls one heck of an act coming out of the water in his barrel, ending it with some ninja moves. That might be alright but when you pair it with Legolas surfing the water with his feet on a couple of the Dwarves heads it is a little OTT. Pick one or the other and you’re good I think. The whole moment ends with the final attack by Bolg following Azog’s order of keeping the attack on, which leads to a severe injury to Kili.
Legolas/Tauriel: Legolas is back and he’s as big a badass as ever. He just takes on all Orc comers and with ease takes them out as well as spiders during the Mirkwood sequence. He pulls off several Legolas moves that we’ve come to know over the course of all these Middle-earth movies. I actually enjoy all of them but in conjuction with a few others, maybe could have left one of these on the cutting room floor. He’s also rather grumpy towards the Dwarves. This to me makes absolute sense to the character. He’s a jerk at The Council of Elrond towards Gimli and is rather snarky early in The Fellowship’s journey.
Tauriel: She caught a lot of crap before the movie about being a created addition. I personally went into the movie with an open mind about her. I’m glad I did because I thought she was a perfect addition to the Middle-earth universe. She can totally handle herself as a warrior from what we see in Mirkwood, during barrel sequence, and later on in Lake Town. I think she is every bit the warrior that Legolas is. The nice change from Legolas is that she is open minded to other races and the problems that are happening in Middle-earth. I love her speech to Legolas after the barrel sequence because it echoes the one thing I love about The Lord of the Rings. We’re all in this together and together evil can be defeated.
Lake Town: The score that leads you into Lake Town is fantastic! It is so perfect for what you see on screen and works with the mental image I had of this place. I love that it’s so run down and is just part of the desolation that area has suffered because of Smaug. It is also a political mess that I think is within the text of The Hobbit.
The Master/Alfrid: The Master is perfectly played by Stephen Fry. In the book you can tell he’s a corrupt politician and that is done exactly as you would expect. I love how he’s a gross guy who has grown fat and lazy because of the power he has held for so long. You can tell he’s a real coward and see him doing what we know that he does in film 3.
Alfrid is a creepy little sidekick. He’s just an unlikable jerk and that is perfect for someone who is at the side of a dirty politician. I saw people say he’s like Grima, I guess with both of them being lackeys for their bosses, this is true. I think Alfrid does a little more on screen than Grima comparing their roles in DOS or The Two Towers. This is another created character and again I think it was a good choice. I like that they took the counselors of The Master and just combined them into one role. It saves time from having to do more work with a load more characters.
Bard: There is little information on Bard in The Hobbit so there was plenty of room in these films to give him some depth. Personally the look of him, I think, matches perfectly how Bard is described in the book. He’s very grim, unhappy, and is not pleased with The Master. You can tell though he cares about the people and why he will go on to be a good leader of men. A bigger family for Bard I think was an ok addition, as they really didn’t add to or take away from story. The one change with Bard’s story that I didn’t expect was the black arrow that comes into play in The Hobbit: There and Back Again. I had always imagined them being just a normal arrow and shot from a normal bow. So it’s a change I have to get use to from my mental movie.
Bolg: Bolg looks dramatically different than what we saw of him from production stills for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. His all CGI look is alright, but I think I would have liked to see more of the original design kept in the CGI look. You can tell its Azog’s Son and he is one messed up looking Orc. He’s every bit as tough as his Dad is though as you can see when he battles and gets the best of Legolas in Lake Town.
The Love Triangle: I really wouldn’t call this a love triangle to be honest. I view it more like a mutual admiration society between Tauriel and Kili. You get some serious understanding between these two with Kili being attracted to how good a warrior Tauriel is. The one time I can see the love part come into play is when after being healed Kili asks Tauriel if the girl in his vision could have loved him. Not Tauriel herself. So like I said, I think it’s more of an admiration between the two characters. Legolas, I think cares about Tauriel in a brother/sister kind of a way and is very worried that she will make a mistake. That is why I think he doesn’t care for her being nice to a Dwarf.
Dol Guldur: This one of the creepiest looking places I think we’ve seen in all of Middle-earth. It’s totally a place you don’t want to make the mistake of taking a wrong turn and ending up at. So many cages with victims still inside them and other various bones all over the ground. All of this makes it a perfect place for say Sauron to hang out as he tries to rebuild his armies to take over Middle-earth.
Necromancer: If you’ve seen the movie you now know who the necromancer is and of course if you’ve read the books you already knew this. I like how they’ve handled this in the movies so far with Sauron not being able to take really even the eye form yet. His battle with Gandalf is pretty darn epic! Seeing these two go at it was something to see even if it was totally made up. I think it works with being one of the reasons Gandalf is so afraid of what Sauron can do.
Gandalf the Grey: He’s quite busy in this movie. We see him start out helping them get to Beorn’s house, go to the High Fells, and of course battle The Necromancer. I love that even if some of this is made up we’re given a chance to see what Gandalf was doing when he wasn’t with the Dwarves. Going back to the battle with The Necromancer for a second I think people will feel this made Gandalf look weak. I don’t think that’s the case at all. He went toe to toe with Sauron and gave him all he had. This fits perfectly with what happens in The Lord of the Rings with it taking a Hobbit and a Hobbit like creature in Gollum to destroy Sauron. It also ties in with what Gandalf told Galadriel about why he choose Bilbo for this quest.
Azog: This guy got a lot of hate in film one for various reasons. I personally liked how he looked but would have preferred to see Bolg as the main bad guy. I think in this film you get an even better looking Azog. You can tell that Weta had even more time to really work on Azog. He’s not in the movie a lot though to show off that work as you only see him in the beginning and during a couple of Dol Guldur sequences. I did enjoy his short battle with Gandalf. He’s able to hide with the aide of the Necromancer’s spell but once that’s gone he goes right at Gandalf. Azog is able to get in one good shot but that’s it as Gandalf from there just keeps him at bay with his staff.
Erebor: Seeing them get to the door was pretty darn awesome and the emotion of them thinking they had failed was a punch in the gut. I loved that they used the light of the moon to show the door. I loved getting a great look at the architecture inside this place and it is one of the most amazing looking places we’ve seen. That pales in comparison to Smaug, who I will talk about more in a second. I really don’t mind the idea that the Dwarves attack Smaug. I think it makes sense from a movie point of view and wouldn’t be outside of the realm of possibility that Tolkien could have gone that way. However, I think the action goes on a little too long with some stuff that I would have left out like Thorin on Smaug’s mouth. Take some of this stuff out and put more Beorn in and I think the film is better for it. I also like that Smaug takes off and leaves Erebor because of this and the tie-in to Lake Town. I think it plays better, movie wise, than him just leaving because of a cup.
Smaug: He is the best Dragon I’ve ever seen. Weta did for Dragons what they did all those years ago for creatures like Gollum. He’s smart, smart-alecky, all-knowing, mean, evil, etc. He’s a great representation of the book I think and I love his banter with Bilbo. That part felt like the book but I do wish it had gone on a little longer. During the action with the Dwarves I did like how he played with them letting them run around and I did like how in love he was with that golden statue. His taking off for Lake Town at the end was beautiful and Bilbo’s reaction to it was classic.