Wednesday, April 3, 2013

DVD Movie: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Part 1

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first of three film adaptations by New Zealand producer, Peter Jackson, of J.R. Tolkien's novel, The Hobbit . Tolkien's novel is about a young  hobbit who undertakes a journey with dwarves to help them reclaim their lost kingdom. The novel, The Hobbit or There And Back Again, is considered a classic children's novel and it was so successful that Tolkien's publisher requested a sequel.

The story centers around a reserved, quiet-loving hobbit named Bilbo Baggins who goes on an epic quest with thirteen dwarves to help them reclaim their lost kingdom beneath Erebor,  the Lonely Mountain. The movie opens when Bilbo is tricked by Gandalf the Grey into hosting a dinner for thirteen dwarves, who include Thorin Oakenshield and his company. Thorin is set upon reclaiming his lost kingdom under the Lonely Mountain, which was destroyed during his grandfather, Thror's, reign. Thorin wants to reclaim Erebor from Smaug the Golden,  the great dragon who drove the dwarves from their city long ago. Smaug lies sleeping in The Great Hall beneath the Lonely Mountain, guarding a magnificent dwarve treasure of gold.

Gandalf, the Grey decides to help Thorin in his epic quest by organizing a sort of dinner party at the home of Bilbo and by suggesting that they use Bilbo as a burglar. The plan is to sneak into the Lonely Mountain through a secret door for which Gandalf has the secret key.

At first Bilbo doesn't want to participate, but eventually he joins the dwarves. The first part of their journey sees them encounter man-eating trolls who try to steal their ponies and fighting orcs and wargs. Inevitably, the group is led by Gandalf to Rivendell where they meet with the Elven master, Elrond and tell him of their quest. Also summoned is Sarumon the White, leader of the Wizards who is skeptical of Gandalf's warning about a rise of evil in Mirkwood, and Galadriel who listens carefully to Gandalf. Elrond   counsels against the dwarves journey but Gandalf is worried that if Smaug is not destroyed he will be used by Sauron to great harm.

Elrond takes the map that Gandalf gave Thorin and by the crescent moon tells them that the ancient runes on the map reveal that they will only find the door to the mountains on a certain night -Durin's Day when the setting sun and the last moon of autumn are both seen in the sky. The light on that day will reveal the key hole to open the door.

Against the advice of Elrond not to continue their journey, the dwarves set out once again, meeting the boulder-throwing stone giants, and eventually being captured by the orcs and taken deep into the mountains. Bilbo becomes separated from his comrades and meets Gollum who wants to eat him. But in a fight with an orc, Gollum loses a beautiful golden ring which Bilbo finds.  He tries to keep it a secret from Gollum but Gollum soon suspects that the hobbit has his precious magical ring and becomes enraged. While Gandalf helps the dwarves to escape the goblin king, Bilbo outwits Gollum and using the ring manages to barely escape the mountains and the orcs. The movie ends with the dwaves, Bilbo, and Gandalf being brought to safety by the eagles.

The Hobbit, like the Lord of the Rings series, is beautifully filmed, with an eye to detail, excellent casting, lots of special effects, and some revisions that make the overall story more cinematically workable. Filmed on location in New Zealand, there are the usual panoramic shots similar to those Jackson used to such great effect in Lord of the Rings. Martin Freeman makes an excellent, believable younger Bilbo Baggins. Richard Armitage of Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South fame, manages to look sexy in his role as the fierce, prickly, Dwarf prince Thorin. Ian McKellan returns as Gandalf, Hugo Weaving as Elrond, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and Elijah Wood as Frodo.

There's been alot of buzz about Jackson "stretching" The Hobbit into three films, but making the novel into three movies is possible because because Jackson has worked information from the appendices of the Lord of the Rings into the film. These appendices fill the reader in on the entire history of Middle Earth through the different ages, relate the history of the kings and rulers of  Middle Earth, as well as  the re-emergence of Sauron. So Peter Jackson uses this extra information to develop the backstory of the rise of Sauron which occurs at the same time as the Hobbit. This will make the entire Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films more understandable to the viewer who might not have read the books and more complete to those who have.

Many sequences in the movie are brilliantly done. When Bilbo meets Gollum, the ensuing riddle contest by the underground pool is typically conniving and traitorous since we know Gollum has no intention of showing Bilbo the way out. But when he discovers his precious ring missing, and Bilbo discovers the secret of the ring, forces are set in motion that affect the whole of Middle Earth.

The scenes with flighty, scatterbrained Radagast the Brown are predictably hilarious, providing necessary comic relief as we learn that something dark has awakened in Mirkwood. The necromancer, who is later revealed to be Sauron, has established himself in the ruins of Dol Guldur. In the film, Radagast, reading the signs of an evil presence, travels to Dol Guldur and flees in terror to warn Gandalf about the evil presence there.

Although this adaptation is generally faithful to the novel so far, Jackson has taken some artistic license with the storyline. The Great White Orc, Azog, was actually slain by the dwarve, Dain Ironfoot, Nain's son during the final battle in the War of the Dwarves and Orcs.  However, including Azog here adds considerable dramatic tension and conflict in what would otherwise be a rather bland tale. He's a fearsome, disgusting fellow with a penchant for mayhem, death and destruction and there's a great scene that sees him face off against Thorin.

Jackson filmed the movie in 3D using Red Epic cameras at 48 frames per second (the usual is 24 frames per second). Unlike his Lord of the Rings movies, The Hobbit was filmed using digital cameras. Many of the orcs will have computer generated faces instead of wearing make-up and prosthetics. The props were created by Weta Workshop.

Fans of J.R. Tolkien may or may not love the movie, but Lord of the Rings movie fans will love it. I hope someday, Jackson will do some of the events from the Silmarillion too. If anything, hopefully the movies willbring more people to read these wonderful novels.

Below are some of the character posters for the film:

The next movie, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is due out December 13, 2013.

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