For several years after 'Return of the King', a lot of us wondered if Peter Jackson would ever do a 'Hobbit' prequel. Personally, the very idea excited me, as 'The Hobbit' is probably my favourite book of all time. While 'Lord of the Rings' was an incredible undertaking (even as an audiobook), 'The Hobbit' was a bit simpler, and did eventually teach me that often an abridged version of something can be better than unabridged. But with that said, the question is, did I like these movies? Or am I too much of a purist?
This one starts out largely as 'Fellowship' does; on Bilbo's 111th birthday. It turns out that what Bilbo (Ian Holm) is in the process of writing a book on his adventures; basically the 'Hobbit' book as we know it. While Frodo (Elijah Wood) makes an appearance here as well, it's essentially just a bit of fan service, offering back a lot of the humble Shire "magic" we remembered from the beginning of 'Fellowship'. The rest of these films unfold as Bilbo's story that he plans to give to Frodo one day. Personally, I thought the idea of Bilbo's story being these movies was a great idea.
Anyway, we then get into Part 1 of 'An Unexpected Journey', where a young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is greeted by Gandalf the Grey Wizard (Ian McKellen) and asked if he'd care to share in an adventure. Bilbo turns him down, but Gandalf isn't easily swayed, and marks Bilbo's door with a rune, meant to direct a party of dwarves. Soon, Bilbo is greeted by a grand total of thirteen dwarves; Balin (Ken Stott), Dwalin (Graham McTavish), Bifur (William Kircher), Bofur (James Nesbitt), Bombur (Stephen Hunter), Fili (Dean O'Gorman), Kili (Aidan Turner), Oin (John Callen), Gloin (Peter Hambleton), Nori (Jed Brophy), Dori (Mark Hadlow), Ori (Adam Brown), and finally Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage).
The party... parties in Bilbo's house, eating, making pigs of themselves, singing, dancing, throwing things around, before they get to the whole point of the meeting. Bilbo is needed to be a burglar for the dwarf party in order to sneak into the Lonely Mountain, and reclaim a hoard of treasure being held by a vicious dragon named Smaug. Once, The Loneley Mountain was known as the prosperous dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, lead by King Thrór (Jeffrey Thomas), who once sat on said hoard of gold. But to make a long story short, it was taken by Smaug, because hell, in this, dragons covet gold above anything else.
Once again, as one could imagine, a large part of Part 1 is set-up for things to come. Some of this, of course, comes in the form of, shall we say, "additives". Really and truly, 'The Hobbit' could have been done magnificently, as the story is, in one very long, or two fairly long movies. However, Jackson felt it necessary to throw in a few things that are merely mentioned that may deserve a bit more attention on screen. For some, these took things away. For others, it added things to the cinematic world of Middle Earth. For me, I claim these extras to be altogether unnecessary, but they don't honestly really bother me.
The three main additions to Part 1 are the inclusions of Radagast the Brown Wizard (Sylvester McCoy), who warns Gandalf of a lurking darkness, involving The Necromancer (addition #2). In the books, Radagast is merely mentioned as Gandalf's cousin, and the Necromancer is just a sort of shadow of a thing that I don't really remember at all. Addition #3 is an orc named Azog the Defiler, who plays a central villain role here, but in the book was killed years before by a dwarf named Dain. None of these inclusions ever really got under my skin though. I enjoy the character of Radagast quite a bit, and Azog feels somewhat necessary, just to provide the film with some sort of major threat. As for the Necromancer, I could take or leave the whole thing, as it just feels like more of the same.
So going back to what I said about possibly being a purist, let's face it, I'm not. I have the book, and still hold that story close to my heart. But I will say that I very much enjoy the movies all the same. Even with the extra stuff, it's providing me with more of that world I fell in love with about 10 years or so earlier. The idea of a trilogy also brought me back to feeling like I had something new to look forward to every Christmas season. I probably wasn't quite as into it as I was during the 'Lord of the Rings' run, but I still had lots of fun with it altogether.
A lot of the different things they left in really struck a chord with me as well. For example, I was almost shocked when they decided to leave in the dwarf singing at Bilbo's house, considering they cut Tom Bombadil out of 'Fellowship' (all that dude seemed to do was sing). I was also impressed at some of the quirky dialogue they left in in, like the way Gandalf introduces himself "I am Gandalf, and Gandalf means me" - great line. There's something a little more innocent about 'The Hobbit' as far as books go, so even though the films try to be a bit more adult, I had to appreciate that they left a lot of the fun stuff in.
Actually, that's probably what I dig most about this trilogy. It gives me what I want to see from the books, but it also just provides more. I never really felt like anything was missing or cut out of this - just added to. It makes me chuckle, thinking about an audience who can't be pleased either way. "Don't add more, don't take out, just be the book". And while I can sympathize with this to some degree, I just feel like adding stuff here doesn't take away from anything I'm experiencing. For me, a lot of it makes it more interesting. But I digress.
We'll get to more of the first 'Hobbit' movie with the next review, of course, but it should be known that the entirety of the first movie is fairly minimal as far as the match-up to the book goes. All of my favourite bits (save for maybe the troll scene in this chapter) come in later movies. But that's not at all to say this is no good. I really appreciated the way they went about doing this, and further appreciate Jackson taking the helm again, even though he initially didn't want to. It was almost directed by Guillermo del Toro, and though that probably would have been okay, it wouldn't have had that Jackson touch to it. I'm happy with the end result... at least so far!