The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ★★★★★

Seen in IMAX 3d

Finally. I finally got to see it and find out where I stand. And where I stand is with two big hairy feet smack dab in the middle of Middle Earth. And I love it there.

I have read The Hobbit a couple of times. It is a stunning piece of children's literature that has a light hearted tone and is a wonderful adventure story. Tolkien once wrote a sentence on a piece of paper: 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.'. This was not a conscious effort, but it intrigued him. Like everything he has written since he treated this sentence philologically. What does it mean? Where does it come from? What is its history? Tolkien treated his texts, both for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as if they were translations of ancient tales. It is therefore that all his stories are riddled with runes, different languages and a rich historical backdrop. Once he finished The Hobbit he revisited it and rewrote the Riddles in the Dark chapter, where Bilbo meets Gollum and finds the Ring, so it would tie in better with his sequel The Lord of the Rings.

Peter Jackson has the same approach. He studied the text of the Lord of the Rings and tried to find out what it means, what the essence of it was so it could be transported to a completely different medium. And in that retelling he made choices, interpretations, translations if you will. And like Tolkien's revisit to that one chapter in the Hobbit, so Peter Jackson revisits the text of the Hobbit to make it fit in with his interpretation of the Trilogy that followed it. And I think he has done an astounding job. He hands us a pair of comfortable slippers, gives us a nice little prologue reminding us where we are an takes us on a wonderful journey once again.

Had this been a children's film I would have been confused as it was clear from the start that this would always be Jackson's interpretation of Tolkien's world. And he sees a world with a darkness in it. Jackson's Middle Earth is a place where the Orcs, Goblins, Trolls, Wargs are all just a bit more evil than in Tolkien's world. And I'm glad they are because it works better this way in this type of film.

This film captures the essence of high adventure so well it made its long running time flutter in an instant. It does not carry the gravitas of the Lord of the Rings in its story, but it does so in its characters, mainly in the shape of Thorin Oakenshield. What Jackson has done rather cleverly is give the dwarves far more personality than in the novel. They are a group that is easy to invest in and care for. And Thorin carries with him he rich history of his people, making his quest epic in its own right. Jackson made some changes here I have read many complaints about. Sure, if you're expecting a word for word cinematic translation, this film is awful. But that is not what Jackson's interpretation is. He has decided to focus on the characters, most notably the relationship between Thorin and Bilbo and to give Thorin's plight more meaning he has cleverly used several elements in the Hobbit and delved deeper into them to give them more meaning in the story. This is present in the shape of Azog the defiler. In the book he is mentioned as having died in a battle and his son seeks revenge later in the novel in an epic battle. Jackson has changed this to give Thorin's journey more urgency and leads to a fantastic climax. Wrong? If you're a purist, sure, if you're not it actually adds to the story a sense of purpose and excitement. Again and interpretation I really liked.

Another example is the inclusion of the wizard Radagast. In the book he is fleetingly mentioned, but Jackson decides to give him an important function. See, throughout the novel there are hints given that a darkness is coming, something evil that is lurking in the shadows. Jackson has decided to give shape to these hints. We see Radagast exploring the forest, tending the sick animals and ultimately encountering the Necromancer at Dol Guldur. This, again, gives the story more urgency and gives the growing evil that culminates in the Lord of the Rings a firmer foothold here.

There are more of these changes around, I'll spare you the rest and summarize. Jackson has taken liberties with this story, he has used his artistic freedom to tweak and reshape the story so that it would fit into his interpretation of the source material. He has every right to do so and the main reason why I don't mind is one thing. Passion. This man is passionate about what he does and about the material. Some accuse him of doing it for the money and milking the franchise, but I passionately disagree. He, and his team of screenwriters, know this material so well and capture the essence of it with confidence and I just cannot fault that in an artist. Some call it butchery, some call it pompous greed, I call it passion and conviction. I don’t have the arrogance to claim that my assessment is right in any way shape or form, but I do know how I experienced this fantastic adventure. To each his own and all that.

I have read many complaints about the running time and the pacing, none of which I share. The minutes flew by for me and I felt that the plot was paced beautifully, culminating in a final 45 minutes or so that had me captivated completely due to the sheer scope and beauty of the action I was witnessing. Visually this film is unrivalled, it is a thing of sheer beauty. The crispness of the colour palette, the creature design, Gollum, everything looks stunning. I loved Freeman in his role. Many say he just does what he always does and they’re probably right. But that only means that he was meant to play Bilbo, because his mannerisms fit a Hobbit to a tee.

I know there are many things to come in this story; the spiders of Mirkwood, Smaug, the Battle of Five Armies. So, yeah, I cannot wait to go there and back again a couple of times more.

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