'Hobbit' film: The good and the dreadful


After seeing "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" at one of the celebrated midnight showings earlier this month, I experienced the following: joy, frustration, bewilderment and excitement.

In the last two years, I've written two blogs about how I thought the story would break down over the planned two (now three) "Hobbit" films. The first one was in 2011 and the second one was in October after director Peter Jackson announced last summer he would make a third film.

Overall, I hit the mark on some things and was off on several others. Primarily, I speculated that the first film would end with Bilbo Baggins and the dwarves escaping from the elven kingdom in Mirkwood Forest and heading to the lake town of Esgaroth. I thought that'd be a natural, logical conclusion. Apparently, Jackson and his team didn't, because the film ends with Bilbo and the dwarves being rescued by the eagles from the clutches of the orcs and wargs (Chapter 6).

Strangely, it looks like I may have been right — at some point earlier this year. While shopping during this Christmas season, I noticed there were Lego toys featuring Bilbo & Co., spiders and the elves in Mirkwood (events featured in Chapters 8 and 9 of the book). And the title on those boxes? "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." This leads me to believe that Jackson had planned to end the first film with those frightening scenes but changed his mind in the editing process, after the toys had already been in production.

Here are more thoughts and observations about Jackson's latest blockbuster, categorized by my aforementioned emotions.

JOY

— Martin Freeman did a phenomenal job portraying Bilbo. He displayed courage, stubbornness and had that wide-eyed wonder that was otherwise missing throughout the film. His evocative facial expressions were priceless.

— The opening sequence of Smaug terrorizing the dwarves' kingdom was simply terrific. It was a nice cinematic touch to have an obscured view of the dragon amid the carnage. I liked Bilbo doing the voice-over, which is consistent with "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

— The best part of the film, without a doubt, was the "Riddles in the Dark" sequence (Chapter 5), with Bilbo fighting for his life via a riddles contest with Gollum. At stake: the One Ring. The tension was supertight. Classic stuff.

— The dwarves bring a rollicking, comedic quality to the story, especially when they first meet Bilbo. Very similar to the book. Lots of laughs, but the scene with the flying dishes at Bilbo's home was a bit much.

FRUSTRATION

— The first hour was dreadfully long. And I do mean dreadfully. I feared that Jackson would overload this first film with too much backstory, and my fears came true. There was too much exposition at the beginning and throughout the entire movie. I'm not a film editing expert (or amateur) but at least 30 minutes should've been cut. I got the feeling that what I saw on screen was what they call in the industry an "assembly edit," or a rough draft edit. The movie was long even for an extended DVD version. I'd hate to think what that's gonna look like when it comes out. Do I sense a few scenes with Bilbo's mom, Belladonna Took and his extended family?

BEWILDERMENT

— What is going on with the Radagast the Brown storyline? He ate up too many scenes, especially at the beginning. That was a major drag on the plot. And the action scene with him and his rabbit sled trying to elude Azog and the wargs was ridiculous. Radagast was barely mentioned in Tolkien's books. Of course, the writers have to establish him because he's part of the wizard council, who eventually sack the evil lair Dol Guldur, which I assume will be featured in the third film, "There and Back Again." Radagast is an intriquing character but when compared to the rest of the council (Elrond, Galadriel, Gandalf and leader Saruman, who have been established in the previous trilogy), he's not worth all that screen time.

— The Azog storyline also puzzles me. At first, I didn’t like it but I think I might know where they’re going with this orc leader. Azog is only mentioned in the Appendices of "The Return of the King” book. He was fighting the dwarves and was killed by the dwarf leader Dain Ironfoot. It was this battle that was profiled in the movie, except in this version, Azog was seriously injured by Thorin Oakenshield and then disappears, presumed dead. In the climax of “The Hobbit” novel, Azog’s son Bolg leads a mammoth army of goblins, orcs and wargs against the dwarves, elves and men in the Battle of the Five Armies. Bolg and Thorin are killed in the battle. The book never explains who killed Thorin. Bolg is killed by the man-bear Beorn. My guess is that Jackson and his team put Azog in the first film to establish a rivalry between him and Thorin, a rivalry which will climax in the third film. Almost assuredly, Azog, Bolg and Thorin will die in that battle, since Jackson has set up the violent feud between the dwarves and the orcs/goblins. I wonder who will kill Thorin — Azog, Bolg or someone else? I'm betting that Thorin kills Azog then Bolg slays Thorin. Anyway, putting Azog into the first film may eventually be a good thing.

EXCITEMENT  

While watching “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” I got the feeling that Jackson used the movie as a set-up for the next two films. The final scene of Smaug opening his eye in the mounds of treasure inside the Lonely Mountain was pretty cool. That gets me stoked about next year’s second film, “The Desolation of Smaug,” which like this film will be released in mid-December. It should have loads of action and less exposition. I can’t wait to see Bilbo & Co. battle the spiders, escape from the elves, head to Esgaroth and then the Lonely Mountain.  

In the film’s other major story arc, I wonder what will happen with Gandalf, the wizards and Dol Guldur. That story probably won’t climax until the third film so there may not be a lot of development on this front, since there’s so much to tell elsewhere. It’ll still be interesting to follow.  

At the end of “An Unexpected Journey,” Bilbo says something about the worst being over. Let’s hope so in this “Hobbit” trilogy. Unless Jackson has some really crazy ideas, the next two films should be more dramatic and enjoyable on an epic scale.