Here we go again, on Fishing in the Discount Bin. I watch a movie and blog about it. It's just that simple. It's time to start plowing through one of the bigger trilogies of the past few years. It's part I of The Hobbit trilogy, An Unexpected Journey. This is in my notes at April 11, 2015.
As I've blogged before, when it comes to the books, I've never been able to make it through The Lord of the Rings, but I adore The Hobbit. When the film version of The Lord of the Rings became a monster hit, we knew it was just a matter of time before Hollywood got its act together and made The Hobbit. But why o why couldn't they have stuck with the second plan?
When The Hobbit was originally announced, it was going to be two films. The first a straight-up adaptation of The Hobbit. And for the second, they were going to comb through all of Tolkien's appendices and encyclopedias about Middle Earth to construct an original film to bridge the gap between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Guillermo del Toro, fresh of Pan's Labyrinth, signed on to direct, and it was going to be his next film after Hellboy 2.
But then, we heard that del Toro had a different plan...the favoured second plan. Cut The Hobbit in half and make it two movies, and forget the whole bridging film. Perfect! Cutting The Hobbit in half would have been a perfect way to preserve everything. But then, the movie studio had some bankruptcy woes and they couldn't start filming until it was sorted out. Del Toro got bored sitting on his hands waiting for that issue to resolve itself, so he quit to go make Pacific Rim instead. That's when Peter Jackson said, "Well, I guess it's up to me," and climbed back in to the director's chair.
Filming began, and we heard that the bridging film concept had been resurrected. Jackson had so fallen in love with the idea, that he decided to try to weave it into The Hobbit as a subplot. And this subplot started bloating the two films so much that it soon became a trilogy.
Hence the biggest problem with The Hobbit trilogy: the bloat. If you've read the book several times like me, the whole bridging subplot is just so much padding. All the stuff with the Necromancer and Radagast the Brown? Not in the book. Azog the Defiler hunting down the dwarfs? Not in the book. Although, I could see the purpose of adding Azog. It gives us more of a villain to root against, and strengthens Thorin's character arc.
Best example of the bloat: when our band of heroes come across the battle of the stone giants. People were all like, "I don't remember that from the book," and then they went and looked it up. In the book, that battle is literally one sentence long. It could have easily been cut.
Lots of people likened The Hobbit to the Star Wars prequels, and I can see that. What frustrated me about the prequels was how they always tried to match story beats with the original trilogy, and when I first watched An Unexpected Journey, I could see how they were trying to match certain scenes to The Fellowship of the Ring. Gandalf had a scene where he gets all big and scary in front of Frodo? Well, let's be sure he does that with Bilbo, too! And the entire underground battle against the goblins really, really, really felt like they were trying to ape the legendary Mines of Moira scene.
That being said, out of the entire trilogy, this is probably the one film that's most faithful to the book. The scene with the trolls...pretty much just as I'd envisioned it when I first read the book. That gathering at Bilbo's place? Perfect. And the riddles in the dark sequence with Gollum...I'd dare say that's the best scene in the entire trilogy. And it is so accurate to the book.
Those scenes also illustrated why Bilbo was such a great hero in the original book. Here he was, the timid little homebody, who surprised even himself by being the smartest guy in the room, and quickly used his demure stature and quick wits to his advantage. Sadly, though, a lot of that wound up getting pushed to the side in favour of big action sequences. But An Unexpected Journey is the one where most of that is intact.
And out of the entire trilogy, this has the most satisfying ending. I mean, yes, it ends on a cliffhanger to set up the second film, but the conclusion is satisfying enough that it works as a standalone film. (Unlike the second film's ending, which I'll get into when I talk about the second film.)
There is lots to love. Martin Freeman is brilliant as Bilbo. Howard Shore's score is magnificent, and the song of the Lonely Mountain that the dwarfs sing at Bilbo's quickly becomes their heroic theme for the rest of the trilogy.
But the padding. Oh so much padding....
And is it just me, or is Cate Blanchett oddly sexy as Galadriel? She almost purrs when she says "Mithrandir," it gives me goosebumps.