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Old December 16 2012, 03:10 AM   #140
Emh
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Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Grading & Discussion (Spoilers

Just got back from watching the IMAX 3D 24fps version. I have to say it's crazy that there are so many different versions to see. I might just have to go watch each one.

Did I love it? That goes without saying. The real question is what about the film did I love? In no particular order:

  • Martin Freeman. By and large the star of the film and brilliantly performs Bilbo Baggins. He manages to capture every facet of Bilbo's character; his stubbornness, his fears, his uncertainties, his modesty, and above all else, his courage. If anyone from the cast has a chance for an Oscar nomination, it's Freeman (although Andy Serkis really should have a greater chance than he will, but more of that later). I look forward to his performances in the next two films more than anything else (along with Smaug, of course).
  • Ian McKellan. Seeing McKellan as Gandalf once again after all this years is like seeing on old friend returning home. It's one thing to be back in the familiar lands of Middle-Earth, but it's a whole another to return with Gandalf. And not just Gandalf, but Gandalf the Grey who has always been my favorite version of the wizard (and apparently McKellan's as well). McKellan slips back into the role like ten years ago was yesterday and brings with him all of the charm, wisdom, and understated power with him. Just prior to the Council of White scene, I suddenly realized that he and Cate Blanchett never shared a single scene of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I'm glad we finally got the opportunity here because the two of them were brilliant together.
  • Andy Serkis. Just as he stole the show in The Two Towers, he does it again in An Unexpected Journey, and if nothing else, he manages to up his game even further. While Tolkien hadn't yet developed Gollum's schizophrenic nature in The Hobbit, Serkis manages to brilliantly weave it into the "Riddles in the Dark" scene as if Tolkien himself had written the chapter that way. As I said before, Serkis should have a greater chance at getting an Oscar nomination than he actually has, but I can only pray that the Academy will finally come to their senses and recognize Serkis' incredible acting.
  • "Riddles in the Dark" was a major highlight of the film as I expected it would be. I'm thankful they managed to get most of the riddles into the final cut with five out of seven appearing, not counting Bilbo's non-riddle question. I can only hope they filmed the other two riddles (dark, fish) and they're included in the inevitable Extended Edition.
  • Sylvester McCoy. As a life-long Doctor Who fan and having grown up on him (and Tom Baker, of course), I was absolutely thrilled by McCoy's casting as Radagast. Even though Radagast doesn't appear in The Hobbit, nor is he greatly detailed upon in The Return of the King appendices, McCoy wonderfully invokes Radagast's love for nature and all things living. Although he has an odd and abrupt introduction to the narrative, Radagast's appearance quickly proves to be vital by delivering information (and proof) to Gandalf of the Necromancer's presence in Dol Guldur.
  • The Council of White. I'm so happy that Christopher Lee was able to return as Saruman in this film if only for one scene, but a scene with such incredible talent. However, I couldn't help but notice that the scene was green screen in order to accommodate Lee's health (so he didn't have to fly to New Zealand) and I wonder what kind of role Saruman will have in the seize of Dol Guldur in the next film.
  • On a side note, am I the only one who was not only relieved but also thrilled to see a calmer, less Mr. Smith-esque Elrond?
  • While I didn't expect to see Smaug in all of his glory, I was excited to see small glimpses of him at both the beginning, and unexpectedly, at the end. Peter Jackson manages to perfectly tease the audience with just enough of Smaug's power without showing too much. It's going to be a long year to finally see (and hear!) Smaug in his entirety.
  • I was very impressed how Jackson was also able to give most of the dwarves distinctive personalities and individual screen time so that they didn't disappear into the mix. In this case, I'm grateful that Jackson greatly expanded on Tolkien's work because the author doesn't provide much in the novel beyond Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, Bombur, and Kili and Fili as a pair. In fact, most of the dwarves don't even have dialogue in the novel. And yet, between Jackson's directing and writing and the actors' performances, most of the dwarves stand out very well. Only Nori, Dori, Oin, and Bifur seem to disappear a little (and even Bombur, too, if not for all of the understated fat jokes).
  • In regards to the adaption, I have to say I'm very pleased how loyal it is to the novel and appendices with the only major change being the expansion of Azog (who actually died prior to The Hobbit, although his son plays a small role in the book) as an adversary to Thorin.
  • In fact, as loyal as the film is to its sources, there doesn't seem to be much left for the inevitable Expanded Edition. I only noticed two scenes missing from the film that we saw in the trailers: Bilbo visiting the Shards of Anduril and Gandalf walking through dark passages (presumably Dol Guldur). I'm sure these scenes will be included along with the two missing riddles. Honestly, I can't think of what else show up.
  • Tragically, I missed Peter Jackson's cameo even though I know roughly where it is (somewhere in the first six or seven minutes of the film). At least Stephen Colbert isn't the only person to miss it. Speaking of which, is Colbert's cameo in this film or another? Anyone notice?
Only one thing nags me about the whole film and it's really minor: We see Radagast visit Dol Guldur and quickly finds Gandalf. The problem with that is Dol Guldur is on the southwest border of Mirkwood, and when he meets Gandalf and company, they haven't even reached the Misty Mountains yet! Unless Radagast has some secret shortcut through the mountains or his rabbit sled can fly, there's no way he would have gotten to them so quickly. I don't doubt Peter Jackson knows Middle-Earth geography, but I think he made a misstep in narration by making Radagast's visit to Dol Guldur appear to have occurred concurrently to the Company's present adventures.

In closing, while Jackson can be a bit over dramatic at times, especially at the climax (just as he was in the trilogy), Jackson has brilliantly brought us all back to Middle-Earth with great splendor and I cannot wait until next year for The Desolation of Smaug.
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