Friday, December 14, 2012

Movie Review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Movie Review
4.5 out of 5 stars
(Minor spoilers present)

I just watched a midnight showing of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I saw the 2D with my wife, Tammy, as she worried the 3D might give her a headache. I’ll see the 3D tomorrow night and will amend this post with my thoughts comparing the two.

The movie was awesome and I loved it. Fans of the book will really enjoy the experience, as it portrays those iconic scenes in the book brilliantly. Nothing is rushed, and little is left out. Casual fans who don’t love fantasy or who haven’t read the book may find it too long with too much exposition and back-story. The movie clocks in at 2 hours and 40 minutes, and the first hour was mostly set-up. It felt like I was watching the director’s cut, though there are 26 minutes that will be added when the director’s cut comes out, and I do look forward to that. The 2D version was a little blurry in some scenes when the camera panned quickly, but I bet in the 3D version with 48 frames per second that problem will go away.

Fellowship of the Ring (the movie), was better than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, as a film, and part of that comes from the actual storyline. The Lord of the Rings has a lot more gravitas than The Hobbit, which is why the filmmakers made the three Lord of the Rings films first. The other point is that the characters were more compelling in Lord of the Rings than in The Hobbit, in some ways. Just think about Aragorn, Arwen, Eowyn, Boromir and of course the four awesome Hobbits. There are almost no female characters in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, aside from Lady Galadriel, and that is a problem with the book in general. Still, it’s a pretty fascinating story, despite all the negatives and the nearly identical structure to The Lord of the Rings.

In this movie we have 13 dwarves, and Gandalf, for the most part, on-screen all the time. I love the dwarves, but with so many characters it’s nearly impossible to adequately characterize each of them. I read that Peter Jackson agonized about doing this movie because of all the dwarves. As a writer, I totally understand why this is tough, and can only imagine how difficult it is/was for the filmmakers.

The movie book by Jude Fisher, A Visual Companion to The Hobbit I purchased really did a wonderful job describing the individual dwarves, and I think it helped me as I watched the film, as some dwarves faded into the background on the screen. Tolkien did a pretty poor job of characterizing most of them in the book, aside from Thorin Oakenshield and maybe Balin, but Peter Jackson and company did much better to be sure. I love the book and have read it roughly ten times, but it’s only 300 pages long, and you can only do so much with that sort of page count.

I loved that director Peter Jackson took the time to establish the history of the Lonely Mountain, and to show Bilbo Baggins struggling to decide if he should go on the adventure. The scenes at Bag End are priceless and should entertain almost anyone. The parts that were so much fun in the book are right there on the screen, even some of the songs. The scene where the dwarves sing about the Lonely Mountain is also quite emotionally moving, and it was the first time I got a little teary-eyed during the movie.

The movie opens with old Bilbo, played by Sir Ian Holm, writing his book, “There And Back Again” about his adventures, and we get to see Frodo, played by a very young looking Elijah Wood (digitally made to look younger), as they prepare for Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday party—right out of Fellowship of the Ring. It was pure magic, especially if you’re a big fan of The Lord of the Rings movies as you watch these scenes. Then we get to hear Bilbo speaking about the dwarves and the Lonely Mountain, called Erebor, which has been taken over by the dragon, Smaug. Those scenes were tremendous, seeing the mountain and the town of Dale burned and destroyed.

Now we get a scene right out of the book, using much of the same dialogue from Professor Tolkien. Gandalf arrives and hopes to find Bilbo still excited about exploring the world as he was as a little hobbit. Gandalf is surprised he is not, but goes ahead with his plan, as he is an extremely good judge of character, and knows how to motivate Men, Dwarves, Elves, and even reluctant Hobbits.

The next scenes with the dwarves arriving were magic, and the filmmakers did a great job by not having Thorin Oakenshield arrive until after the silliness was over. Thorin is a serious character and this change from the book, having him arrive later, was perfectly done. When I recently re-read the book, I figured this change would happen.

Overall, Jackson and his team kept to the novel, and let us ease into Middle-earth again. After the Bag End scenes are concluded the long journey truly begins. Certain details were changed regarding the scene with the trolls, but I thought it was great and hilarious. Doing the scene exactly as Tolkien wrote it would have been too silly, and Bilbo takes the main role instead of Gandalf, regarding distracting the trolls. Purists still have the book, but what works on the page doesn’t always work on the big screen.

The next segment was injected with tension, and I won’t spoil it here, but suffice it to say, I enjoyed it very much.

Rivendell was awesome, and so beautiful. Elrond, Galadriel, Saruman and Gandalf have a meeting and it felt like going home to me. Radagast the Brown was mentioned in that meeting, and if I were to choose my least favorite part of the movie, it would be a scene with Radagast where he can’t remember why he’s just traveled hundreds and hundreds of miles. Duh. When Gandalf gave him a toke of Halfling leaf to calm him down I was disappointed even more. The whole beginning of the scene was a little too much for me. I did like all the other scenes with Radagast, though, and liked Saruman’s comment about him.

After Rivendell, the dwarves travel into the mountains, and there’s a rather incredible scene with some stone giants. The scene was mentioned in The Hobbit, but it didn’t feel necessary. It was pretty awesome, if unexplained. I think it could have been left out and probably should have been.

The scenes with the goblins were incredible, and exciting. The dwarves are such great warriors and those were some exciting action scenes. The goblin king was a little too funny for my tastes, but I enjoyed him nonetheless.

Bilbo meeting Gollum was amazing, and the filmmakers changed the way Bilbo finds the One Ring. It worked really well and was not so random as it was in the book. I liked the change. The scene with Bilbo and Gollum is probably the best part of the whole film. Riddles in the Dark was perfect and riveting. Andy Serkis out did himself as Gollum and was better here than in Lord of the Rings. I read the technology for capturing Gollum has gotten better, which explains part of it.

The last part of the movie follows the book, but was amped up about ten notches. The dwarves are chased by the wargs and orcs. With nowhere left to run, they are forced to take refuge in the trees, just like in the book. However, unlike the book, Bilbo manages to climb the tree all by himself, then it gets really thrilling, and scary.

I’m not going to describe the finale here, but suffice it to say, it’s way more exciting than in the novel. There’s danger and drama, and redemption. Bilbo shows his character, and we get a solid ending with a view of what is to come. The movie ended right where I thought it would end, aside from the final teaser. Thank you Mr. Jackson.

This movie, and the teaser scene at the very end whet my appetite for the next film, The Desolation of Smaug, coming December 2013.

I’ll add more to this post later, and plan on writing about Radagast, Dol Guldur, the Morghul knife, the ending, the prologue, the battle where Thorin got his name, Azog the pale orc (who I read was not CGI, but played by an actor in prosthetics), and more, but for now I’ll sum a few things up.

Overall, I loved the movie. It didn’t have as much heart as Fellowship of the Ring, but that was to be expected if you know both stories. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a great tale, but this part of the book (and this first of three movies) is full of set-up for what is to come. The next two films will be more action packed to be sure, and I think each movie will be better than the one before it. I think this could have been done in two movies as originally planned, but with three movies we’ll get to see a lot of great stuff, and there won’t be that rushed feeling that would have come had only two movies been released. The roughly three hours of extra footage we’re going to get because of the three movies is fine with me. More time in Middle-earth is most welcome, though the casual movie go-er might not feel the same way.

The book, The Hobbit, made me become a fantasy writer myself, but it’s not as spectacular as Lord of the Rings, either the books or the movies. It needed to be embellished and filled out a bit, expanded just as Tolkien expanded the story when he wrote Lord of the Rings. Remember, Tolkien didn’t know the Lord of the Rings story when he wrote The Hobbit back in the 1930’s, but later in life he came up with some missing pieces.

Some of those missing pieces were used by the filmmakers. They took material from the appendices of Return of the King and created a more exciting story, tying together certain villains and events. You should read the appendix about the dwarves “Durin’s Folk” right now if you haven’t. It’s amazing and is in the Return of the King book. Also there’s information in Unfinished Tales, a collection of stories published after J.R.R. Tolkien’s death by his son, Christopher Tolkien. There’s a chapter in Unfinished Tales about “The Quest for Erebor” that is quite fascinating. I recently reread it again, and now own the actual book.

This film could have been stripped down, but I prefer my fantasy movies rich and layered. The writing team of Peter Jackson, Phillippa Boyens, Fran Walsh, and Guillermo del Toro did a fantastic job adapting the novel into a film, or rather three films. This movie is a must see for all fans of the books, and the Lord of the Rings movies. I believe the three films will be triumphant when they’re all out, and I’m excited about having the next two films to look forward to over the next couple of years.

The long wait for the first Hobbit movie is over, and I’m so thankful it was finally made.

Paul Genesse
Author of The Iron Dragon Series, (which features a lot of dwarves--however not Tolkien's variety, and dragons, but definitely no Hobbits).

Monday, December 10, 2012



Review: of Blue Skies from Pain by Stina Leicht (no spoilers)

And Blue Skies from Pain,” a book of the Fey and the Fallen, the sequel to Stina Leicht’s fantastic novel “of Blood and Honey,” is just as good as the first one. It started right where book 1 left off, though it does have a fascinating prologue featuring Father Murray, and covers an event that weighs heavily into this book. We get to see a mission from when Father Murray was a young man, just starting out in his order, and it involves the ongoing war the Catholic Church is fighting against the fallen angels.

Father Murray does have some point of view chapters, but the main character is once again, Liam, the former IRA wheelman and half-mortal shape-shifting fey, who has a fondness for punk music, and is quite the outcast in 1970’s Belfast, Ireland during the time of “Troubles.” This series is mostly about Liam, and he has grown quite a bit since his downward spiral in book 1, but he’s still haunted (literally) and can’t face the major loss he suffered less than a year before. He’s got a ways to go before he finds peace (and dare I say, enlightenment). I did love how the novel ended for him. There is some closure and resolution, but we want to see more.

So, the main thrust of the plot (set up in book 1) is Father Murray trying to convince his superiors that the fey are actually not fallen angels, and the Church should stop killing them indiscriminately, as they have for countless years. Liam agrees to be a test subject and prove that he, and the fey, are not demons. Of course it all goes horribly wrong, and the IRA is not very excited about Liam refusing to work for them anymore as a get-away-car driver.

The main characters are always in danger and keep getting put in situations that make you want to squirm. They get beat up a lot, and Leicht is particularly hard on her characters. “And Blue Skies from Pain” is not as dark as the first book in some respects, but the characters keep getting captured and roughed up. I think that the “getting captured” event has been a little overused in the first two books, but it always seems plausible. I’m just hoping Leicht has some other tricks up her sleeve for the next book, and I’m with an imagination like hers I believe she will come up with even more fiendish ways to make the characters suffer.

This novel did expand and go into more detail regarding the fey, Liam’s people, and touched on the fallen angel war, but there is a lot of ground left to cover. I’m very much looking forward to the next book, and think it might be the juiciest one yet, as the first two have set up a great conflict and established some awesome characters and world-building.
Some of the most notable things in “And Blue Skies from Pain” involve the new secondary characters. I’m very much hoping the American combat nuns will return, (yes, combat nuns) and that the black haired girl, who might be a selkie, will be back.

I’m a big fan of Stina Leicht’s work and very much enjoy her characters, and the fascinating world she’s created. Her vision is how I think dark urban fantasy should be done, not too much spoon-feeding of the readers, and not too much exposition about supernatural things, but with completely believable characters in tough situations.

View it on, or view my review of book 1.


Paul Genesse