Before I start, I have to admit that I'm not really that familiar with Tolkien's canon. I read The Hobbit in elementary or middle school, attended a panel on its literary roots at Dragon*Con in 2011, and, at the panelist's suggestion, begged a copy of The Annotated Hobbit for Christmas that year. Didn't really get into it until a few weeks a go, when I skimmed the book and looked at a number of the footnotes in preparation for a book club meeting. I have a pretty good idea of the story, but not a firm grasp on the specifics. As for The Lord of the Rings, I slogged through it in... high school?... and watched the first two movies when they came out. Yes, I know. If it makes you feel better, I'll surely be returning to it after this.
Anyway, the point is that I'm not a purist. This is atypical for me, actually, as I usually feel the neurotic need to see the story represented in its entirety. If you are a purist, and don't like things added or subtracted, then you will probably take issue with this movie. However, I felt as if... Episode I... kept to the spirit of the story remarkably well, and felt the changes made were understandable.
More specific reflections (and a number of spoilers) are under the cut.
First off, here are my main impressions:
1. This is a beautiful movie.
2. The Hobbit is mostly well-cast, though I have some doubts about certain of the dwarves.
My reservations were that... oh, come on now. Thorin? Kili? Fili?
|...too sexy for my...|
Also, I think Kili was wearing eyeliner.
They did a very good job, though (see below).
3. The music is great.
In general. My personal taste goes much more towards the folk-style songs--"Blunt the Knives," "Misty Mountains."
The instrumental score was pretty standard. However, it was good at highlighting emotional shifts, and I loved the heavy-brass reference to "Misty Mountains" in the underground fight scene. Was a little disappointed not to see the elves' "Tra-la-la-lally" song, or the [goblins'] "Fifteen Birds" song, though, as I was looking forward to seeing how they'd be adapted!
4. The story mostly stays true to the book, though some plot arcs are added that will presumably continue through all three movies.
5. I could really have done without the Hollywood-style "Aww!" moments that punctuated the film.
Thorin is an asshole. Bilbo is incompetent. Together, they fight crime. Look, they are supposed to slowly reconcile, and become friends. But... there's this dramatic scene, at the very end, where instead of sitting in the fir tree and waiting to be rescued by eagles, Thorin leaps out of the tree and does battle with his old nemesis, The Pale Orc. (Just go with it, okay?) He loses, handily, and is about to be beheaded when Bilbo, brandishing Sting, leaps into the fray and saves his life. Then they have a dramatic, strings-heavy moment when they reconcile, and Thorin tells Bilbo that he should have believed in him, and... they're friends, after that. I guess. There was also this part earlier, in Rivendell, when Galadriel (just go with it, okay?) asks Gandalf why he brought Bilbo, and Gandalf says something like, "Because he gives me courage." Stop that, Hollywood. We don't need that. This is not supposed to be that kind of movie.
Anyway. Otherwise, the details break down into "Things I Loved," "Things I Felt Neutrally About," and "Things I Didn't Care For." The list is heavily weighted towards the first item, and I want to end on a positive note, so I'll start with "Things I Didn't Care For."
Things I Didn't Care For
1. The Hollywood schmaltz moments (see above).
2. Ian McKellan sounds really, really old. I list this here not as a "Shame on you, Ian McKellan!" thing, but as an "Oh, sad!" thing. Doesn't he have cancer? :( Stay strong, Mr. McKellan! We need you!
3. No one speaking Elvish in this movie seemed to be doing anything but reciting lines. I seem to remember Liv Tyler being better at it?
Yeah, she totally was. Yes, it's a Foreign Language--and a Made-Up Language, too--but please at least pretend that it's an actual language, and not some arcane chant you've been forced to learn.
Things I Felt Neutrally About
1. Gandalf felt much more human in this movie. Are wizards human, in the Tolkienverse? Had the impression they were in a different category.
2. Man, the evil things in this movie are disgusting. That fatty tumor under the Great Goblin's chin is going to give me nightmares. Also: lots of booger jokes.
3. Hugo Weaving was extra-prissy, I thought. Heh.
4. Was Saruman supposed to be Gandalf's... boss, or something? Why did he act like he had authority over Gandalf, and possibly Galadriel? (Yes, Saruman was... just go with it, okay?)
5. Radagast. On the one hand, I liked seeing him. On the other hand, I would have liked him better if he hadn't had any lines. Don't the dwarves themselves provide quite enough comic relief?
Things I Loved
1. The introduction. The backstory--the discovery of the Arkenstone, the coming of Smaug ("SMAH-oog," according to the movies) and the dwarven diaspora that followed, was really compelling.
2. The elves. Pitch-perfect, I thought--especially Thranduil at the beginning, who's breathtaking after you've looked at so many smudged, dirty, dying dwarves. Beautiful, aloof, largely emotionless, with a kind of eternal quality.
[Was going to put a picture here, but none of them quite do the scene justice.]
Hugo Weaving's tiara, though, in no way compared to the one Elrond wore in the Rankin and Bass version.
|Which is why Rankin-Bass Elrond looks so serenely superior.|
3. The introduction of Thorin as prince and war-leader. His character is really built up well, I think, and you can definitely see warnings of what's going to happen throughout the rest of the story. I thought his severe elf-hate was interesting, too.
4. Elijah Wood's cameo as young, innocent Frodo. Need to rewatch LOTR and see how he changes.
5. Bilbo, pretty much all the way through. Martin Freeman did a terrific job. He's prissy, finicky, and surprisingly clever.
6. The scene where the dwarves arrive at Bilbo's house. It was hilarious. I kind of covet Bilbo's little patchwork smoking jacket, too.
7. Ori, in his bowl cut and sweater vest and mittens, with his slingshot and perpetually confused expression. Did not expect any of the dwarves to be adorable, but he certainly is.
8. Fili and Kili.
They're completely, delightfully nuts--Kili, in particular. Appearance-wise, he's sort of in between Frodo and Aragorn from LOTR--so imagine those two had a love-child who was totally bugfuck?
[No pic here, but I bet if you looked around the darker parts of Fanfiction.net you could find an appropriate story.]
Actually, Fili, Kili, and Dwalin are kind of my Platonic ideal of what Viking warriors might actually have been like. They'll stay up all night drinking and telling dirty jokes, get into a few bar fights, and jump headfirst into battle the next day looking none the worse for wear. Kili, in particular, wears a manic grin that suggests there's a little something extra in his mead. He and Kili are also supposed to be Thorin's nephews, and very devoted to him, so watching their interactions was extra interesting.
Oh, my gosh. An absolutely fantastic cap to an already excellent movie. He was so pitiful--there were these little flashes of real person, and he got so excited about playing riddles with Bilbo that I just felt bad. He actually cried when he lost the ring. Poor Gollum!
10. The Great Goblin. (I keep wanting to call him "The Goblin King," but that's rather a different image, isn't it?)
He was... really quite funny. Barry Humphries gave him a very plummy, unexpected British voice, quite at odds with his grotesque appearance, and his little song about torture and dismemberment was hilarious. Again, the thing under his chin will give me nightmares, but on the whole I quite liked him. It was interesting to see the difference between goblins and orcs--different languages and everything. Is that canonical?
11. The battle underground. Fighting goblins in an enormous cave--such an intrinsically dwarvish thing to do, don't you think?
12. Lots and lots of other things, too numerous to be named individually.
So. As you can see, I really enjoyed this movie, and I think a lot of the people I know will enjoy it, too. It's definitely high-adventure, and there are definitely some action scenes that... didn't need to be there, but on the whole it was well worth the price of admission. Unfortunately, I just learned that The Desolation of Smaug won't be out for a year, which I thought was completely excessive. Shame on you, greedy Hollywood bastards. Shaaame. But I shall try to console myself in the meantime, perhaps by revisiting LOTR, or by following up on some of the intriguing previews I saw at the theater.
So that's my opinion. What's yours? Share in the comments!