Over the years, I’ve developed a stable of sick foods for those days—whether self-incurred or sent by nature—when you just can’t get out of bed. One of my favorites, frequently referenced here, is Kozy Shack Rice Pudding, a magical substance, each bite of which contains the exactly perfect ratio of creamy vanilla custard and chewy rice grains. Every bite. I’ve never gotten sick of Kozy Shack Rice Pudding. I’ve eaten an entire tub of it in one sitting, never tiring of its flavor and texture, savoring each and every spoonful. It’s good to the last drop.
The new HOBBIT I movie (An Unexpected Journey) is like Kozy Shack Rice Pudding. It’s just more of the stuff I love and I can eat the whole tub on one sitting. To anyone left who wonders if they should see it I would ask “Did you like LORD OF THE RINGS? Didn’t you say at some point that you would watch a whole movie of Ian McKellen’s Gandalf and Christopher Lee’s Saruman reading aloud rice pudding recipes? Yes, you did and this is that movie.”
THE HOBBIT is another helping of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth. It is not an exact replica of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, but it is close enough in spirit and texture to be an enjoyable extension of the books. And if you are a hardcore Tolkien scholar, like me, you like ALL OF IT, every creamy, ricey bite of it, from the Cracks of Doom to Dol Guldur, from Aragorn to Feanor. And that’s what Jackson is giving us…little bits from the appendixes kitted up to full on battle scenes and character arcs. And I love it!
Now, did I think the opening with Elijah Wood as Frodo and Ian Holm as the older Bilbo was a little too custardy without enough rice? Yes I did. Was I surprised to find that all White Council meetings took place while the participants were stoned out of their minds and could only talk in long, drawn out syllables? A bit. Was I previously unaware that Bilbo would be mostly a bystander in the film’s action as the story shifted over to Thorin Oakenshield and his quest for his homeland? That is surely so.
But was I also excited to find the canonical great orc Azog elevated to sub-villain, and stone giants having majestic boulder battles in the mountains, and the scrofulous growths of disgusting goblin kings shaking with laughter and wargs and elves and Mount Gundabad?
To all the haters who say this movie has no story and is way too slow: I think you got the wrong idea. Peter Jackson’s three-part HOBBIT is not a movie. It is a nine-hour miniseries that is being presented in theaters at frame rates only a crankhead can enjoy. The first hour is all set up, the second hour is some journeying, the third hour has some fights, the fourth hour will definitely have more fights, and maybe spiders, and perhaps a hearty lunch and so on.
Also, if you don’t mind spoilers, I defy you to read this and not want to see Peter Jackson make this movie! If you don’t want spoilers, here’s a peek:
The third movie is apparently going to be nothing but action as a giant battle of men, elves, dwarves, orcs, and eagles unfolds, while Gandalf, Galadriel and Elrond go postal on the Necromancer at Dol Guldur. With swoopy camera angles and bigatures! And hot elves! And hot dwarves! And Martin Freeman! Come on now, who does not want to see that?
I was not a fan of Jackson’s KING KONG, which was total monkey fanfic and betrayed White Council-like meandering story sense. But here, Jackson’s viewpoint meshes perfectly with the source material. There are a lot of Jackson/Walsh/Boyens/del Toro made up things in the HOBBIT but they all improve the film’s cinematic flow. They’ve elevated Thorin, who in the book is mostly a greedy, petty pain in the ass. In Jackson’s HOBBIT he’s a noble, dispossessed prince trying to get his homeland back—but he’s also flawed. He’s an Aragorn who doesn’t make it. Richard Armitage is fine with the role, and as with the original trilogy, slash and fanfic will never be the same after meeting Thorin, Fili, Kili, Bofur and so on.
Now, I did not see this in the crack-head frame rate, and it seems that everyone who did—including all critics—was repelled and alarmed. I don’t generally like 3D but HOBBIT looked fine in that presentation, with Jackson’s trademark plunging tracking shots, and WETA’s attention to detail holding up well on the screen. (Apparently in 48fps it’s really hard to make things look good in cinematic terms.)
And to those who say THE HOBBIT is a cute kids book and does not need to be three three-hour movies, I say, “No, it doesn’t so go watch the Rankin Bass version.” This movie is all about pigging out on rice pudding, and wallowing in every last detail of Middle Earth. And I’m fine with that.
I wasn’t totally fine with Radagast. I liked his bunny sled, which wasn’t canon but somehow, kinda fit in with the spirit of other agrarian Tolkien works like Farmer Giles of Ham and Leaf by Niggle. I wasn’t entirely in love with his bird shit. Radagast in the books was an oddball but not a hoarder. (And yes every Tolkien scholar in the audience laughed when Gandalf said that there were five wizards but “Hm, I can’t remember the name of the other two.”)
Other Tolkienistas seem to have reacted favorably to An Unexpected Journey. Here’s Mariah Huehner’s take.
By changing a few things, Jackson gave Bilbo a bit more agency up front (choosing to go on the quest instead of Gandalf basically shoving him out the door, figuring out he should maybe try stalling the trolls until daylight, coming to Thorin’s defense). This makes his arc as a character more believable because he does have some of these positive traits already. They just need to be brought out by the circumstances. He starts out fussy, with glimmers of risk-taking and cleverness. Which come up again later in various circumstances (trolls, Gollum, spiders, barrel ride, Smaug, info via thrush to Dale, they all build toward each other). That’s how you work a character arc.
And Dresden Kodak creator Aaron Diaz, who has the best post for the Tolkien scholars I’ve read yet:
The tone is perfect, and they do a really good job of making this “Not Lord of the Rings,” complete with the implication that Bilbo likely embellished parts of the story. It’s lighthearted without being goofy or dumb, and captures that sense of innocence of a time much less dark and dreary. I suspect this might throw off some who are less familiar with Tolkien’s work, who expect every one of his stories to feel like LoTR, but we know better, don’t we? There are many different stories in Middle-Earth with many different purposes.
And just to round thing out, noted surrealist Alejandro Jodorowskywas not a fan of Tolkien’s male-focused world:
The Hobbit is a single male elf accompanied by male dwarves. How can we make movies where women do not exist?
Bring on Tauriel!
In another tweet, Jodorowsky united the streams:
Al final de “El Hobbit”, quien duerme en la montaña de monedas de oro, no es otro que el tìo del pato Donald disfrazado de dragòn.
— Alejandro Jodorowsky (@alejodorowsky) December 16, 2012
which translates (Google tells me) as:
At the end of “The Hobbit”, who sleeps in the mountain of gold coins, is none other than Donald Duck’s uncle disguised as a dragon.
If Benedict Cumberbatch is going to play Uncle Scrooge, so be it!
So anyway, I really enjoyed THE HOBBIT, I plan to see it at least once more, and when it comes out on Blu-ray I’ll watch it over and over again, especially when Fili and Kili are onscreen, and oh yeah, Andy Serkis’s Gollum was amazing.
Now bring on the Kozy Shack!
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.