Friday, December 28, 2012
Photo: Movie poster, from its Wikipedia page
I'd heard (and read) a lot of negative reviews about this movie, so I approached it with great trepidation. After all, who wants to pay $11.50 per ticket and sit through an almost-three-hour film if it's terrible?
I needn't have worried. This one is, in some ways, superior to the first three LOTR films, though those did have a better flow and vibe. The opening scenes with The Hobbit, and the scenes involving the riddles with Gollum, are very long, and noticeably so while you're watching them. Yet, they are also very necessary, as the first sets up the characterization and spirit, while the latter shows how Gollum lost the Ring, which is hinted at in the LOTR films, but never fleshed out. It is here. I'm guessing Peter Jackson--who does know great editing and pace, so you have to assume his long scenes had a purpose in his own mind--let these riddle scenes go on a little because they explain Bilbo's entire purpose (in a very Star Wars-like, Zen kind of way) on this trip: He needs to come so that he can find the Ring and keep it away from Sauron, so that, of course, Frodo can drop it into Mount Doom later, thereby keeping evil out of the hands of Evil. This is the whole point behind all six of the LOTR and Hobbit films, and so is therefore deservedly fleshed out, even if it is a tad overlong. But that's an epic, right? You appreciate it because it is so important, so...well, epic. Epics are told on a grand scale, and some scenes are epic in of themselves if they're important enough.
But I digress. Do not be swayed by the many bad reviews. It is a story on a grand scale, complete in of itself, and not just a set-up for the other two films. Does it set them up? Of course. But it's a set-up movie the way that Star Wars: A New Hope was a set-up movie. Both are complete.
I told a few people that I liked The Hobbit more than the LOTR films. I cannot completely substantiate this, but the feeling I get of trust, of kinship, of fighting evil, is much stronger here than in the LOTR films. This is for a few reasons. In the first three films, there were an expert sword-fighter/killer, an expert bowsman, an expert axe-man, an expert wizard--you get the idea. These guys were Middle-Earth renowned for their already-superior abilities. The whole point of the LOTR movies, which wasn't shown enough, is that it's the everyday little people--the Hobbits--who are the real fighters of true evil. (Roger Ebert gave the LOTR films 3 1/2 stars, rather than 4, because of this point, that they got carried away with the epic battle scenes and lost track of this theme.) The Hobbit exemplifies that point much more. The film busies itself with Bilbo proving his worth to these otherwise taller fighters; by doing so, he exemplifies this ideal.
The Hobbit also has characters that are all less-established than the LOTR fellowship. No actual kings here (though one should have been). No famous fighters. These guys are all losers in the sense that they got kicked out of their homeland--literally, they lost their home. And not just in the sense of a country, or a house, but an actual feeling of belonging, of home, of being where you were meant to be. We're told by good hosts to be "at home" in the sense that the word "home" is a descriptive, not just a place. We're supposed to feel, after all, that "there's no place like home."
Lastly, there is more of an emphasis (though the viewer is never assaulted with it) on The Way, on Zen--on The Force, if you want to think of it that way. Gandalf is constantly asked why he picked a hobbit to join this group. Later, he says that he's frightened and that Bilbo (and, one assumes, Hobbits in general) give him courage. But his first response was perhaps a much more honest "I don't know." He's simply drawn to pick him; it's nothing more than being guided, than trusting your gut. What creates gut decisions? I mentioned before that it is necessary, in a Fate kind of way, that Bilbo be in the group because he needs to steal the Ring. It shouldn't go unnoticed that Gandalf calls Bilbo "the burglar" throughout the film, much to everyone's wonder, including Gandalf's own. Having Bilbo in the group really makes no sense; if Fate hadn't chosen him, nobody else would have. But the battle of Good vs. Evil had already begun, unbeknownst to everyone but Gandalf: Sauron has already started to fool everyone (though the Elven Queen is catching on, I think); he's already looking for the Ring, already conquering lands and dispersing and killing the natives and the trees. (There's an obvious comparison with Star Wars's Emperor Palpatine here, a plot device that Lucas must have stolen from Tolkein.)
These forces of Good and Evil are constantly at war, as if they were their own separate entities. It's a common theme and belief--dating back to Zen's and The Way's origins, and certainly believed by the Ancient Greeks and by the Elizabethans, never mind Tolkein and Lucas--that we are often just pawns used and manipulated by these forces. Who knows how this will show itself? Here, it's when a dragon, who probably knows nothing of Zen, or Good and Evil, decides to attack a city for its gold. If this doesn't happen, the native people don't get driven out, and they don't have to go on a quest to win it back, and Bilbo doesn't burglarize Gollum, and Frodo doesn't defeat Evil by dropping the Ring into Mt. Doom.
And so on.
The Hobbit brings this out more than the other three LOTR films. And the visuals are better, too.
Go see it. Go appreciate it's grand nature, it's epic storytelling of Good vs. Evil.