by John Murphy
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is self-indulgent in the best and worst sense. Peter Jackson, the hobbity Kiwi who transformed J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, into an Oscar-winning box-office behemoth, has earned his right to luxuriate in the cinematic world he began building over a decade ago. And Jackson apparently knows it, since luxuriate he does—like a cat grown fat and sassy stretching itself in sunshine and delightedly licking itself. The Hobbit, a modest classic of children’s fantasy literature, is now a three-part epic in the same mold as The Lord of the Rings.
In this case, the naysayers are right: there’s really no reason for The Hobbit to be three movies (even a two-parter seemed to be pushing it) besides making the kind of gold a dwarf would envy. Jackson is a veritable Smaug, lording it over the cash pile that is the Tolkien literary estate. But thankfully he’s more hobbit than dragon, so his good humor, benevolence, and bold taste for adventure win the day. Going to the boisterous midnight showing of The Hobbit also proves that Jackson is wizard as well as hobbit: he conjures the old magic in some dazzling set pieces, such as a Three-Stooges inspired battle with some dimwitted Trolls and the iconic “riddles in the dark” sequence that introduces Gollum to the story of Middle Earth.
Andy Serkis’s cameo as Gollum is a reminder that Jackson’s gift is really for flesh-and-blood actors as well as digital dreams. Serkis’s melding of the two is a landmark in cinema history. Martin Freeman is pitch-perfect as the game, if frequently bewildered, Bilbo Baggins. And my sister was (is) absolutely besotted by Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, who somehow manages to make the phrase “studly dwarf” not incongruous. She’s been rewatching the BBC miniseries North & South, in which Armitage’s rich Yorkshire voice and handsome features are shown to best advantage, and which will no doubt get an unexpected journey to the top of many fangirls’ Netflix queues.
It’s worth remembering that Jackson has a luxury that was not afforded Professor Tolkien. Because Tolkien wrote The Hobbit before the magisterial Lord of the Rings trilogy, the two worlds never quite seemed to fit in his eyes. He always wanted to go back and tinker with The Hobbit so as to bring it more in line with the epic vision of the later series. So now Jackson has done that, and whether Tolkien would approve of Jackson’s unapologetically pop sensibilities, there is no question that Jackson’s Hobbit shares the same scope and grandeur of his classic Lord of the Rings series. While I’m not entirely convinced The Hobbit needed to be three movies, there is absolutely no question that I’ll eagerly anticipate the next two: I’ll be There and Back Again to the midnight showing of the next Hobbit adventure.
One of the highlights for me of The Hobbit movie is a haunting theme, one of Howard Shore’s best, sung by the Dwarf Troupe:[youtube width=”650″ height=”450″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnBk3UC3f9U[/youtube]