The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure
My mom's company sponsored a free lunch and showing of The Hobbit today and I was able to see it. (My company also sponsored a showing last Friday at the opening day, but it was at 8 AM and I just couldn't make myself get up that early.) So here are my thoughts about this part one of the prequel trilogy to LOTR.
Overall, I would say it's a good popcorn movie, I guess. Some good eyecandy spread through it, and not just of people, though there are some bits of good characterization... But. Well. It tries way too hard to live up to LOTR and doesn't make it by far. In fact, I would say that the worst flaws of this movie is that it's been bogged down with the success of the previous films.
Let's get this out of the way first.
Epic world-building scenes have always been one of the strengths of the LOTR movies and this one is no difference. The sweeping scenes of Dale, Erebor, the Goblin kingdom under the mountain, Rivendell (as always) are glorious and beautiful. You truly do get a sense of being in Middle Earth, this vast world of many different places of both awe, mundanity, and darkness. Fanfic writers do not lack of any material in the setting of their story.
Gandalf was awesome as well. I think he got the best and strongest character... I wouldn't say character building exactly. More like of all the actors, Ian McKellen did the best bang up job with his part. You really get the sense that this is a wizard who is both powerful and wise... as well as having very human character flaws and deep inside as certain and afraid as any other member of the party - which makes him surprisingly relatable.
Elrond shows up of course, and I found him much more likeable here than in LOTR, I must say. I guess that's because he's much nicer here, kind and helpful even in the face of the dwarves' antagonism, rather than spouting off anti-human pessimism the first few minutes we meet him. I guess we just caught him at a much better time/mood than in LOTR, I guess. :P
Also loved the soundtrack and even the occasional singing. I might even be motivated to buy it. (Or maybe just wait for youtube vids to be posted with it and get it off there.)
The action scenes are good, in that they are able to maintain constant suspense. But on the other hand they got really ridiculous really...often. I mean, a few epic bite your nails scenes are good for pacing. But having the one after another, each trying to outdo the other... and it seems like you're trying to cover something up with the mindless action. Not *every* action scene needs to be an Escape from Moria or Battle of Helm's Deep. Really.
Bilbo Baggins didn't pull on the audience's heart strings nearly as well as Frodo did. It's a shame, since he's supposed to be both the narrator and half the main character here. I'm putting part of the blame on the actor, since it's not like he didn't get a *lot* of solo scenes to help advance his character. He just...didn't capitalize on it. It's sad that I'm able to relate more with any of the hobbits at the end of FOTR (including Merry & Pippin) as the "little guy with hidden potential caught up in something far bigger than the small world he knew" than Bilbo here. But. At least he wasn't *bad* and made me dislike him, which is something...
And that leads us to the other main character of this film - Thorin. I just cannot get behind this guy. Yes, it sucks that you're an exiled prince who lost your ancestral home and face a daunting challenge ahead of you. But do you have to be an emo little girl who lashes out at anyone who won't whine with you about how woe is you? Also, what have you done to be worthy in the audience's eyes? Your advisor/mentor guy talks a good show about how awesome you were in that one defining battle of your life... but every time your company gets into danger, you had to be rescued by Bilbo and Gandalf. You're certainly no Aragorn, who was much in the same situation, but never resented Elrond for trying to breaking him up with Arwen, or talking smack back to Boromir when he got uppity. For that matter, even for an angsty reluctant exiled king, Aragorn at least managed to herd a bunch of hobbits from Bree to Imladris (with some help from Arwen at the end) and took up leadership of the team from post-Moria afterwards. When has Thorin ever *led*? When has he shown himself to be a *leader*? Or even competent? Why should the audience be moved to root for him instead of merely sympathizing with him? I certainly haven't.
For that matter, the characterization is a problem that extends to the supporting characters as well. It's just so...lop-sidedly balanced. Did we really need to have the two gratuitous scenes of Thranduil who doesn't even really show up in this film? Did we need the entire first sequence with Radagast when we'll have an entire second film that will intersect with Mirkwood? Did we really need the White Council scene?
And on the other hand, after watching the entire movie, I still can't name all the members of Thorin's company - and that's including the non-dwarves! Gandalf, Bilbo, Thorin...Balin...Killa?... yeah I can't even name half the team, much less characterize them besides the completely shallow likes of fat guy, weird beard guy, Killa's other half... uh... drawing a blank now. In fact, now that I think of it, the entire introduction sequence (before the "An Unexpected Adventure" subtitle showed up) fails to *introduce*. The first few dwarves show up and give their names, and then the rest of them pile in -- it's like the film just throws up its hands and says "yeah, we can't be bothered to keep track either so just call 'em dwarf #5-12". And the rest of the intro plays out more like a scene from Snow White than LOTR, basically generalizing the entire dwarf troupe than making any attempt to individually characterize them. Hell. Why even have such a long intro sequence before Thorin arrives? It boggles the mind.
In fact, that's the main problem everyone else is talking about isn't it? The move is too long. I feel like I sat through the extended edition of the movie already, with so many scenes that are just there to cater to the hardcore fans (the White Council scene, Radagast's first sequence, the "future" scenes in the intro, the Thranduil cameos, the really long comedic scene with the 3 trolls before Bilbo gets caught, etc.) They add very little to the current story. We really don't need that much/heavy foreshadowing for the next movie. They really didn't need to be there. (Though, OK, I can understand the White Council scene maybe they had to keep in order to get Chris Lee & Cate Blanchette on the billing for political purposes... but it's not * necessary* so why hire them to be in the prequel at all?)
Tl;dr. - Middle Earth is still an awesome place to see on the big screen. But a good portion of the movie should still belong in the extended edition. Gandalf is still awesome, but I'm not feeling the love for the Fellowship Company here, if I even remember half their names.