In 1937 J.R.R. Tolkien published a short, silly children’s book called The Hobbit. It was set in a fictional universe he’d been thinking about and taking notes on for twenty years, but it was probably his first real crystallized effort. Later, when a sequel was requested, he wrote the much more serious and epic Lord of the Rings. It was a better, more complicated, and much more mature work, and as soon as it appeared, it obsoleted the Hobbit in several ways, leading to a series of revisions to the work itself and a number of additional tales working to mesh the two together.
A decade ago, Peter Jackson put the Lord of the Rings to film, with three very long and very well received action movies, and immediately the public began clamoring for a similar treatment of the Hobbit. This Christmas, he released the first film in a planned trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The movie is almost three hours long and incorporates a lot of expanded universe material that can’t be found in the novel of nearly the same name, making it a much looser adaptation than the previous films, but I think this is absolutely unavoidable, because Jackson had a big, big problem on his hands when he took on this project:
There’s a moment in the opening act of the movie where twelve dwarves sing a very silly song about breaking all of their hosts dishes, as they deftly pass and stack them. It’s taken directly from the book, and generally works as a series of commands to ruin Bilbo Baggins’s crockery, followed by the punchline, “that’s what Bilbo Baggins hates.” It probably made Tolkien’s children laugh, and it’s part of the general setup of the book–a timid, excessively polite English country squire is dragged along on an adventure with a bunch of uncouth ruffians, triumphing through cleverness and strength of character–but it doesn’t fit in alongside Peter Jackson’s version of Lord of The Rings, where the silliest thing that happens is a little drunken pantomime. Podcasters I follow have been calling it out as one of the worst scenes of the film, and I’m sure movie reviewers have something to say about it, if I could only bring myself to read that nonsense, but in any close adaptation of the book, scenes like this would be the rule, rather than the exception. It is a dreadfully silly little novel.
My overall review is that so far, Peter Jackson has done a good job with tricky material. Adding in the white council and the Necromancer corrects the tone toward the trilogy, and though the dwarves begin very silly in keeping with the book, they have good serious moments in the latter half of the film. It could easily be worse… it would probably have been worse if it were closer to the book. So I’ll be there to see the next one and likely the one after it.
Verdict: See it.