The Hobbit: An Expected Journey Was Amazing

5 01 2013

Without giving away anything, the first part of The Hobbit was amazing. It was incredible. It was really well done, and I didn’t find it long or boring at all. I found it engaging and riveting. Plenty of action, but also plenty of depth to the story.

Okay, the next part contains spoilers. Proceed at your own peril. For those with Elven blades, you will notice them glowing blue. Turn back if you don’t want to know more.

Depth and Backstory

What impressed me with An Unexpected Journey was the amount of depth that Peter Jackson and his team brought to the story. Yes, the book itself is quite short, and up until the party reaches Mirkwood, the detail is actually very, very light. It was meant to be that way. It was written as something of a children’s book. That meant that many story elements were treated fairly lightly. I’m not sure that Tolkien had completely decided on the significance of the Ring, and the Necromancer was basically Something Bad Lurking At The Edges.

With An Unexpected Journey, we get a tremendous amount of backstory that was absent from the book, and only hinted at in parts. We get to understand the motivation for Thorin and his band, beyond “take back our mountain and get back our gold”. The movie introduces different tensions that were completely absent from the book, making the story deeper and more engaging for a more mature audience.

Wouldn’t Be An Epic Tale

Consider the events in the book up until they are rescued by the eagles. There is the unexpected party. They encounter some trolls, which are dealt with in a few pages. They have a brief stay in Rivendell, where everyone is friends with everyone else, and we learn about moon runes. They end up in the midst of a Stone Giant battle that covers, at best, a page of text. They fall into the clutches of the goblins, and are freed almost immediately by Gandalf, whereupon they lose Bilbo. Bilbo engages in some riddles, follows Gollum out, and has a narrow escape (described in maybe 2 paragraphs). The party is chased up trees by wolves, which Gandalf starts to chase away with fire, and they are plucked out of the trees by eagles. There is one minor battle at best, and a couple of “close calls”.

The whole thing would have been maybe an hour of screen time. But it also wouldn’t have been much of a story, because in “grown-up terms”, there wasn’t an inordinate amount of peril. Except for Bilbo bumbling about with the trolls, and exchanging riddles with Gollum, he is basically along for the ride. If you put that on screen, Bilbo could have been out of frame for most of the movie and no one would have noticed. Yes, it still makes for a good book, but it isn’t an epic tale.

We Get Tension, We Get Depth and Texture

What we get with this first movie is that we get more depth, more texture and more tension. In this one, the dwarves and the elves do not get along. They don’t trust each other, and it forms something of an explanation about the tension during the council with Elrond during the Fellowship of the Ring. The original book doesn’t explain that at all. We get the threat of Azog trying to pursue Thorin and company, meaning that the ambling through the countryside is no longer just a long but pleasant hike. We also get hints that the Necromancer may actually be Sauron, and we see a Saruman who may be on his way over the “dark side” of Middle Earth.

The big thing is that we get to see Bilbo grow into something of a hero. He is still uncertain of himself, but he is a character with depth in the movie. In the book, he’s a pleasant green-grocer who went on a hike with dwarves. His only moments in the book (up until the rescue of by the eagles) was his screwup trying to pick the pocket of a troll, and his riddles with Gollum. Otherwise, he’s just baggage. In the movie, he’s still a burden from time to time, but we begin to see the development of a hobbit that will explain where Frodo ultimately got his fortitude and determination in a bigger tale. In some ways, Bilbo is largely secondary in the book, except for brief moments as a bit of deus ex machina to advance things along and deflect the plot in the right direction. In this, he is truly going to end up the hero of the story.

I Understand Where This Story Is Going

It isn’t that I think the original story of The Hobbit is a bad story. It isn’t. But it also isn’t a Great Story and it isn’t an epic that serves as a great lead-in to The Lord of the Rings. Just as Peter Jackson did tinker with The Lord of the Rings, in part to make it a little less biblical and a little more of epic fantasy, Peter and his team have take The Hobbit and its essence, and built on it considerably.

I now understand why it was broken into 3 parts. We get to see the party go from their formation to their rescue by the eagles. I expect part two will take them to Beorn and through Mirkwood, with more attention paid to the Necromancer, and with Azog still in pursuit. I would anticipate that the second movie either ends with them arriving at Esgaroth/Lake-Town, or possibly on the doorstep of the back door to the mountain. In the last movie we will actually see Smaug, instead of just hints and bits and pieces, and the encounter with him and the battle will be much bigger. I also expect that the conflict between Lake-Town and the dwarves that comes after will be further expanded.

This Wasn’t Just Stretched Out

Ultimately, the first movie wasn’t just the first 3rd of the book with a bunch of fluff filler to stretch it out. We get far more explanation as to the various motivations. We get to see Bilbo emerging as a hero, rather than just being someone along for the ride. We get a better understanding of the origins for tensions between dwarves and elves, and we get a peek into the beginnings of the return of Sauron.

If you are any kind of fan of The Lord of the Rings, then you will want to see this movie.

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