The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Jeff “Monoman” Conolly found out I had a record that he needed, so I agreed to meet up in Athens before the Lyres played. Of course, he was drinking at the Georgia Theatre, where Steve Morse of the Dixie Dregs was playing, so I inadvertently caught Morse’s soundcheck. Now, I’ve seen enough bands to know when the sound is done right – and it sounded right, but not to Morse, who obsessed over finding a quarter note that he felt was out of tune! A quarter note, I might add, that nobody other than himself would notice. The Lyres over at the 40 Watt that night were sloppy, erratic, spontaneous – everything that makes good rock ‘n’ roll. And the moral of the story, kids, is that everything doesn’t have to be perfect.
All I’ve heard about Peter Jackson’s first installment of The Hobbit is that it ought to be seen in 2D, not the special 3D, because 24 frames looks right and the 48-frame version looks as if it was shot on security cameras! Whadda they talking about? I saw the movie, in 3D, and in many ways I prefer it to both Fellowship of the Ring and Two Towers because it’s more relaxed, tighter and more humorous, with set pieces that spiral as though we were high up on the surface observing events in Middle Earth. Maybe by following one trilogy with an expanded trilogy from a children’s fantasy novel, he hoped to be able to iron out kinks and, using incidental Tolkien sidebar scenarios, it’d rekindle just what has made the story of an inconsequential hobbit such a treasure for fans.
There’s no need for a scorecard, since hobbits, dwarves, elves and orcs are in the vernacular thanks to Return of the King winning the Oscar. But this time, Gollum moves more fluidly, he has tremendous facial expression and remains the centerpiece of the installment that connects the three previous pictures in this evolving trilogy.
Unaware that The Hobbit was children’s fare, I never warmed up to the book, casting it aside and avoiding the Rings trilogy for the better part of two decades. Jackson’s films freed the material from its spumescent pedestal so that he’s able to add to and accelerate the mythology, delving into the reasons the dwarves don’t trust the elves, and how a lowly, insignificant hobbit can outsmart trolls.
With his nervy persona, Martin Freeman makes for a captivating Bilbo, advancing from recluse to pivot man on the quest to retake the dwarves’ homeland. But far and away, as far as I’m concerned, the most satisfying moments in An Unexpected Journey belong to Sylvester McCoy as Radagast, a sort of bumbling hermit wizard more comfortable amongst forest wildlife. When his badgers and mice and rabbits fall ill, he sets out to warn of an impending darkness. Ian McKellen (Gandalf) and Christopher Lee (Saruman) foreshadow their contrariety in Return of the King, and Cate Blanchett radiates in 3D!
As for dividing up a story that was not written as a trilogy, rather than altering Tolkien, it’s Jackson’s way of expanding Middle Earth and should be met with expectancy and wonder, since it provides a more majestic quality to this incarnation of children’s literature.
Battle for battle, the staging is a technological marvel, and speaking of Marvel, the advancements made to bring The Avengers to the screen can be seen, especially during the “garden of earthly delights” goblin empire sequence. It’s Disney’s “Night on Bald Mountain” from Fantasia with a hint of the Morlocks’ subterranean workcamp lair from George Pal’s The Time Machine.
Whereas the Rings trilogy could be called a spiritual quest, The Hobbit, as Bilbo puts it, running out of The Shire, is an adventure! Much has been critically leveled at the opening segment where Gandalf summons the remaining dwarves to the home of an unsuspecting Bilbo Baggins. It’s no longer in length than the Olympic trials which introduce the main characters in Jason and the Argonauts – in fact, An Unexpected Journey moves at a pace similar to a Monty Python skit where hobbit hyperventilates trying to save his china from the famished freeloaders who raid his cupboard!
Fandom – not music fandom or sci-fi fandom, but all fandom – arose due to Forrest J Ackerman, literary agent and founder of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. Every aspect of modern day fandom can be felt in Jackson’s Hobbit, from gaming to weaponry and Maxfield Parrish-style horizons that had an impact on the art of the Hilderbrants, who first brought Middle Earth into visual perspective.
When The Hobbit is compared to The Return of the King, or the Rings trilogy, it’s unfair – after all, King won an Academy Award, and Jackson’s trilogy was something that had not been tried before: maintaining its audience over three years.
This is just a movie about a hobbit. But don’t underestimate it.