A review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (dir. Peter Jackson, 2012)
I tried to read The Fellowship of the Ring, but couldn’t get past the Tom Bombadil chapter. However, I love the movie adaptation of the novel, as well its sequel, The Two Towers. (The third movie in the trilogoy, The Return of the King, I didn’t like so much.) I also love the parody Bored of the Rings, especially the “pity stayed his hand” joke in the beginning. I’ve never read The Hobbit.
Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), following the advice of Gandalf the Gray (Ian McKellen), hires Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as a burglar to accompany his company of dwarves in his quest to retake Erebor, once the kingdom of the dwarves, now known as the Lonely Mountain, home to Smaug the Dragon. At first, Bilbo doesn’t want anything to do with the quest, and he resents the dwarves’s intrusion of his home in the quiet Shire. However, once the dwarves leave, he sees his house, sees how empty it is, and realizes that Gandalf is right about him, he does crave excitement. He runs out of the house and joins them on their adventure.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a light-hearted movie, and the movie-goer might get bothered by the number of times a deus ex machina is needed to get the heroes out of trouble. Under attack by orcs, Gandalf finds a hidden entrance to the elven home of Rivendell (the elves also rout the attackers). Captured by trolls, the dwarves are rescued by Gandalf. Once more under attack by orcs, Gandalf summons eagles to lift the dwarves away from their enemies.
One gets the feeling that the heroes are never in any real danger. After all, an old Bilbo is seen recollecting the events of his quest at the start of the movie, which he is safe. I thought, in the climax, that maybe they were going to kill off Thorin. I really wanted him to die, because at least it would mean that the movie is taking itself seriously. But he survives getting bit by a warg.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the movie. Maybe seeing characters from The Lord of the Rings trilogy was enough of a nostalgia trip to keep me satisfied. I sure enjoyed the scene in Rivendell where Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Saruman (Christoper Lee), and Gandalf conferred about the possible return of their enemy Sauron. It was also great when it was shown how Bilbo got the one ring from Gollum (Andy Serkis).
Besides the pleasure of intertextuality, there’s also the joy of seeing actors from other franchises: Martin Freeman is from The Office and Sherlock, and Aidan Turner (who plays the dwarf Kili) is from Being Human (I squealed every time the latter appeared on screen).
I think the secret of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey lies in its contradictions. Gandalf, in trying to convince Bilbo to go with him and the dwarves, tells the hobbit that what he seeks isn’t in his books, that the world is “out there.” But Bilbo is never in any real danger, he never steps outside. The movie, a feel-good movie, tells its viewers that what we seek really is in books: safety, and security. A home. Of course, right now, in the world, millions are unsafe and homeless. One can interpret The Hobbit in two ways. First, as a propaganda fairy tale meant to pacify movie-goers with an illusion that there are no real problems in society. Second, towards which I lean, as a portrait of an ideal. The dwarves got their home taken away from them. They’re going to fight to take it back. Evil and oppression cannot be tolerated, evil and oppression must be destroyed. It’s what is right, it’s what is good, and, from beings with passion and righteousness in their hearts, the only thing that can be expected.
The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey