This will be a bit of a long story, but bear with me.
When I was a junior in high school and a fledgling fantasy writer, I decided I needed to read the granddaddy of all modern fantasy: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
I liked The Hobbit. I did not like The Fellowship of the Ring. In fact, The Two Towers was the very first book in my life that I didn’t finish. (I put it down after four pages.) So when I found out in early 2001 that there would be a movie of Fellowship coming out in December, I was skeptical, to say the least.
Then the trailers came out, and it actually looked…good. I was still cautious, though. Attack of the Clones had looked good, too.
Then the reviews started coming in. And everybody said it was fantastic.
I didn’t see Fellowship of the Ring until January 2002, nearly a month after it came out. I walked out of the theater shocked that the movie had been three hours long, because it had been the shortest three hours of my life. Everybody had been right. The movie was fantastic, and it was the first time I’d ever thought the movie was better than the book it was based on.
I also walked out of the theater absolutely, completely, and ridiculously in LOVE.
Now, I own three sets of the LOTR DVDs—the theatrical versions, the extended editions, and the limited editions. I have all three movie scores. Collectively, I saw the movies eleven times in theaters. And I have been waiting, hoping, and praying for a Hobbit movie since December 2003, when I walked out of the theater after having seen Return of the King the second time.
I tell you all of this so that you understand my mindset when I was sitting in the theater at 11:30 p.m. on December 13, waiting to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at midnight. I had been waiting for this moment for the better part of a decade, and I would get to experience it with a group of friends who were just as excited as I was.
It was so worth the wait.
The Hobbit, as most of you know, is the story of Bilbo’s first adventure, when he’s pretty much shanghaied by Gandalf and a band of dwarves into helping them take back their mountain home, which is currently occupied by a dragon.
But just as importantly, it’s on this journey that Bilbo finds the One Ring, which ultimately launches all the events of The Lord of the Rings.
By its nature, The Hobbit is a very different story from The Lord of the Rings. It’s an adventure, not a quest to save the world, and it was a children’s book, which means it generally has a much lighter tone than LOTR. A prime example is the scene with the mountain trolls, who are very large and very stupid. It’s a little like watching Bilbo versus the Three Bloodthirsty Stooges (which is precisely the way it was in the book, so that made me very happy to see).
There’s not the same urgency underlying the beginning of their journey, an issue Peter Jackson attempts to circumvent with a band of vengeance-driven orcs. It works pretty well for what it is, though there are times you can tell the subplot was stitched in.
The dwarves are a very mixed company: some of them serious, others considerably less so. I loved getting to see more from their race: an actual living, breathing dwarf city, the way they interact with each other at Bilbo’s house, and their songs, both serious (“Misty Mountains”) and funny (“That’s What Bilbo Baggins Hates”). The introduction of the dwarves and their dinner at Bilbo’s was one of my favorite parts of the movie.
And then there was Radagast, played fantastically by Sylvester McCoy (known to us Doctor Who fans as the Seventh Doctor). He was a little crazy and very eccentric, but it totally worked, and I liked getting to see so much more from a character we saw so little of in the books. (Plus, two words here: Rabbit. Sled. SO COOL.)
In fact, the new actors in general were awesome; the casting for this movie was note-perfect. I’m pretty sure Martin Freeman was born for the sole purpose of playing Bilbo Baggins. He does such a fantastic job, not only with the way he looks, but the way he moves and his mannerisms echo those of Ian Holm from LOTR. I absolutely loved him.
Plus, with all the actors from LOTR returning to reprise their roles, it felt a little bit like getting to see old friends once again. Even if the tone was different, The Hobbit felt like an extension of the universe we grew to love in LOTR. The familiar places—like Bilbo’s house and Rivendell—felt the same, while the new places felt perfectly organic to the world.
Was the movie itself perfect? Alas, no. While there were a lot of things I’m glad they added (the prologue showing how Smaug took over the Lonely Mountain, pretty much everything involving Radagast), there were parts that dragged or that definitely could have been trimmed down. In a few places, I found myself thinking “This should have been left for the extended edition,” because it seemed like they were scenes or lines of dialogue for the fans, as opposed to general audiences. (PJ: I am one of the biggest LOTR fans there is, but seriously, these movies don’t HAVE to be three hours long.)
That being said, I had to bite my lip to keep from squealing out loud when Bilbo, in narrating his story, started with the words “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
I also didn’t see it in 3D, so I can’t comment on the 48fps (which was apparently the recommended way to watch the movie). What I saw looked absolutely gorgeous, so I would probably go back and spring for the extra to see it in 3D.
Overall, like I said, The Hobbit was so completely worth the nearly 10-year wait to see it on the big screen. If you haven’t seen it, you really should. This is one of those rare movies that’s definitely worth it to see in a theater.
And now, I can’t wait for December 13 of this year to see the next installment.