Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Rating: **/ (2.5 out of 4)
Every person who walks into my apartment is immediately confronted by one fact: I love books. I own a lot of em. Around 700, in fact, stacked on three towering bookshelves. One of these bookshelves is dedicated to fantasy-genre: George RR Martin and Game of Thrones, Robert Jordan and Wheel of Time, and even older school authors like Andre Norton and Fritz Leiber (Swords of Lankhmar). And of course Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Though I rarely, if ever, read Fantasy anymore, it was my childhood, yeah?
So you can understand my excitement for Lord of the Rings and awe at how well it was done, and my excitement for The Hobbit. I remember watching it and finding it entertaining, but was it awesome? No… this time around, my awe was conspicuously absent. It all felt somehow less than Lord of the Rings. Why was that?
I write these reviews because I wish to understand the relationship between stories and the human heart, my own most of all. And, if possible, to share my understanding with others or have it sharpened by their retort. Yet if I am honest with myself, I have grown weary. Why should I seek to understand and share my understanding when there are so many who are content to relish in their fandom worship and find community and friendship and connection in it? That’s no bad thing and truth is, I feel guilty when I do not worship as others worship. So I wrote no review of The Hobbit and I never understood why I found it less. I was content to let those who loved it love it and those who hated it hate it.
With the upcoming Desolation of Smaug, a movie for which I hold nothing but excitement, I thought it was time to rewatch The Hobbit. This time around I did understand, and so I will speak my piece and if you gain some understanding of film or stories and the human heart, well then I am glad. If my critical analysis somehow lessens your enjoyment of the film or upsets you, then I apologize. Either way, let’s begin.
Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are, no matter how you slice them, triumphs of imagination and the tools we have created to bring our imagination to life. No longer must we rely on the brain or the warmth and crackle of fire to tell stories. Instead we can grant sound and movement to our imagination, and share it with one another! Call me crazy, but I believe such grand films ought to be considered wonders of the world. Right? Take a moment, step back from your jaded existence, and simply luxuriate that such creations are possible. Even twenty years ago, they would not have been, not on this scale, not with such precision and beauty.
Yet without a human story at its heart such wonders would be as depressing as the great Pyramids of Giza, an architectural and engineering triumph built… for what? To serve as a mausoleum for a dead, dry demagogue. How sad, how empty.
It is there, in its story (and not any nonsense about it being shot in 48 frames per second) that I find fault, where it became less when it could have been more. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is emotionally manipulative, its pacing is off-kilter, and its tone is often at odds with the nature of its action. Most of this stems from the fact that it should never have been split into three parts, a decision I cannot believe was made except out of greed. By splitting it into three, The Hobbit became, as Bilbo Baggins said in Fellowship of the Ring, “like butter spread over too much bread.”
It is true that all blockbusters and probably all films are emotionally manipulative. You’d be a poor director/writer if you didn’t understand your audience. But there’s a way to do it without feeling exploitative.
The Hobbit does not manage it. The vibe I got from The Hobbit was of an abusive ex-boyfriend trying to win his girl back after she finally dumped him. Suddenly the jerk becomes super-nice, offering compliments and flowers, but it’s all just manipulation. To an outsider, the machinations are obvious, but to the girl… well how can you blame anyone for being optimistic?
Likewise, the Hobbit’s emotional machinations were so obvious. It was SO SO SO Hollywood and became less for it. For example, in the final battle of the film, Thorin suddenly forgets how to wield a sword and gets absolutely clobbered, just to setup this intervention by Bilbo, an intervention that wasn’t in the book I might add, because Bilbo is NOT a warrior, not an action hero. His is not a warrior’s courage, but something smaller, more common, yet also more nuanced.
Which is why the ‘riddle battle’ with Gollum was so brilliant - by far the best scene of the film - because it showcased genuine emotions… in a villain! Did anyone look upon that creature, that addict, and NOT feel pity? In that scene, we got to share in Bilbo’s emotions. It showcased Bilbo’s fright, his humanity, and his intellectual prowess, traits that action heroes usually lack. The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings have always been at their best when they stayed true to the heart of Tolkien’s epic: that even the smallest of us, and the smallest of deeds, have the power to do both good and evil.
Other issues abound: the pacing, of course, is oft-mentioned. Most people point fingers at the over-long prologue, with Bilbo and dwarves hanging out in a hobbit hole. My issue was not with that but rather with the nature of conflict in The Hobbit. It felt tacked on. Even the primary conflict - between Thorin and the Pale Orc - is secondary to the true conflict: between the band and Smaug the dragon. And yet! Even THAT has been subverted into a corollary to the conflict between Gandalf/the-forces-of-good and Sauron/the-forces-of-bad, a connection which is barely explored in the book, probably because Tolkien knew that to do so would be to blunt the narrative (to be fair, probably not, Tolkien was not exactly a master of pacing). As if to make up for this lack of focus, the action/set-pieces are absolutely crammed with movement and noise and fury, as if to convince us that it was all terribly important!!! And why? For what purpose did they blunt the focus?
To extend it into three films. Either because Peter Jackson lacked the confidence to tell it in one or two parts or because people wanted to make money. And neither of those is a good reason.
Final Say: I am well and truly excited about Desolation of Smaug, and I was well and truly entertained by The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. But unlike the books and unlike the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films, it did not inspire me to tell my own stories. It didn’t feel true or real and thus the story it told didn’t feel important. It felt like a story told to make money.
In short, the film was overdone. It shouts its themes, its importance, its emotion. It’s the type of film that puts bird shit on Radagast’s head when all it needed was him whispering life back into a hedgehog.
How to Watch It: Enjoy it.
EXTRA: You perhaps may not have realized this, but the first Hobbit has almost NO ‘human beings’ except those briefly seen in the town of Dale. Instead, it’s all dwarves, elves, Istari (aka wizards), and hobbits! Diversity!
You live in a story another has written for you:
and all the proper climaxes
along the way.
I have returned
from the vanishing point,
to tell you:
the story you write for yourself is neither tragedy nor comedy,
it is bleak and black and bright,
mud like the rest of our’s.
The beginning, the end are another’s climaxes;
and your own climaxes will not even feel like them.
But at least you have written it,
and that is worth something.
If you’ve got a problem, take it up with God
It is easy to say goodbye. You can do so like a ballerina, all grace and pirouette, or you can knock down fences like a bull. My advice to you is that it doesn’t matter. Either way, you’ll be like a raindrop who thinks itself a martyr, it may die so that the forests below may live. But I am here to tell you: it’s only gravity and entropy. All things fall and all things fall apart, and you haven’t got any say in the matter.
The other day, I asked the baker for more.
He said, “Can you pay?”
I said, “I’ve been paying my whole life, brother.”
He laughed and said, “You and me both.”
But he didn’t give me any more.
Bubble Bobble Leggings
Nothing like blowing and popping soap bubbles on a hot summer day. It’s even more enjoyable to blow bubbles in an air conditioned arcade with your favorite bubble dragons, Bub and Bob. Another pair of leggings inspired by arcade classics approaches the market. This paid of Bubble Bobble leggings is still a little spendy for leggings but cheaper than Mass Effect Leggings and Tetris Leggings.
Leggings from Eat Me Clothing ($58)
Sports in a nutshell. [vectorbelly]
my boyfriend understands me and my feelings on sportsball
I find it so disappointing that masculinity and spectating professional sports have become associated with one another. I’ve played sports my whole life - I grew up in Indiana and played five seasons of baseball per year. Two separate leagues in spring and fall, and one in the summer. I also played soccer and basketball. And I played football with my friends when I was in high school - I was often paired against a 350 lb behemoth twice my size. In college, I played a pick-up basketball game almost every day after work. But spectating? Please.
Masculinity, as I understand it, does not involve sitting on a couch, drinking shitty beer, and watching overpaid grown boys toss around a ball in a game the outcome of which has literally zero impact on anything outside of that game and its marketing apparatus.
I understand the communal aspect and all that and that’s all fine and wonderful and any man who enjoys it should do so without guilt - but do not for a second believe that doing so makes you more of a man. To correlate spectating professional sports with masculinity is poppycock. It is a (militant) feminist triumph of the highest order.
Masculinity, as I understand it, is about building, shaping, creating, controlling, understanding. It’s about mastery of nature - first with the spear and the axe and the till - and now with numbers and language and science and corporation. When you realize that, you’ll realize that Albert Einstein was more of a man than all of the Dallas Cowboys put together.
My essay on the classification of quantum particles as both intelligent and living is, to be frank, an irredeemable train wreck. I somehow ended up defining the entire universe as both intelligent and living, which makes such a classification rather pointless. Still, I’ll post it sometime tomorrow, for who knows? Someone may find it worthy of thought.
It was getting on the long side either way, so I decided to split off this secondary argument into its own essay. The question at hand is: Are Quantum Particles Intelligent?:
Suppose you’re walking down the street and you see a penny on the ground. Do you pick it up? How about a dollar? How about twenty dollars?
I know few people who would walk past that twenty dollar bill, or even that dollar bill. But I also know very few who would stop for that penny. But WHY? Is not a dollar bill made up of a hundred pennies? If I say a penny is worth NOTHING, then 100 times NOTHING is still nothing. So clearly the penny must be worth something.
Likewise, if I say that an atom is not life, but if I am merely a creature composed of a hundred thousand billion atoms, well… a hundred thousand billion times zero is still zero. Therefore an atom must contain life, mustn’t it?
In fact, the same thought experiment can be applied to intelligence as well. Where do I draw the line in intelligence in myself? Is my brain intelligent on its own? One hopes so, as commander and general of my nervous system. Alright. What about an individual neuron? Isn’t its ability to spark or not spark at certain events the basis of my intelligence? Alright. What about the structures within each neuron cell? How about, for example, the DNA which provides the instructions that tell the neuron how to function? If we say a human is intelligent, then the brain must be intelligent, which means the neurons must be intelligent, which means the DNA must be intelligent too? And then we have to say amino acids are intelligent, until eventually we get to the carbon and the hydrogen and the oxygen and then the proton and neutron and electron and then the quark and we have to say, well, yep, I guess these guys must be intelligent too. They may not be very intelligent, just like that penny doesn’t have much value, but just as that penny isn’t COMPLETELY worthless, they must have at least SOME intelligence too.
Which is an interesting thought.
[Note: there is another interpretation of this by the way. If you say humans do not possess free will / free intelligence, then you would no longer be required to ascribe those traits to quantum particles]