There’s no one quite like Peter Jackson to portray the melee of battle. Nor is there anyone quite like Howard Shore to compose catchy themes of great heroic timbre. (Though I actually think that “The Lonely Mountain” could make a great lullaby—though a lullaby of disaster and vengeance, but those exist and are often sung to infant heroes.)
Jackson adds much of the fantastical history and mythology to the first installment, An Unexpected Journey, of his adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, giving viewers a greater understanding of the dwarves’ history, and particularly that of Thorin and the line of Durin, and also introducing viewers to Radagast the Brown and the Necromancer. He draws heavily from appendices material from The Lord of the Rings, material from Tolkien’s The Silmarillion (a weighty and difficult book to read, written with the tone of history tome), and sentences mentioned in passing and as throwaway facts of adventures not shared by Bilbo Baggins. Yes, Jackson expands the story, but it’s almost entirely canon.
In expanding and adapting the tale, Jackson puts weight and draws connections where Tolkien does not—at least as clearly. In Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Bilbo saves the dwarves by his cunning and by his stealth but never draws sword to stand up to a great orc king (in fact, no such orc king enters into Bilbo’s tale); he really only ever enters combat in desperate self-defense, and then I can remember him doing it but once. Bilbo has gone from trickster in Tolkien to late-blooming hero in Jackson’s version. Further, the dwarves quest in Tolkien reads primarily as one to recover “long-forgotten gold,” but Jackson puts greater emphasis on the return to the homeland (fitting for our time; there are parallels between this and so many cultures in our world that could be drawn, while a gold-lust we think of as primarily a bad thing in this modern era—and in fact, Jackson does highlight the greed of Thror as a sickness and as his doom). To loyalty and friendship, Jackson adds (towards the end of this first film) to Bilbo’s motivations for remaining one of the company of Thorin Oakenshield shared love of home and hearth and the belief that everyone deserves these basic comforts. This shifted emphasis will lend the quest more legitimacy and epic proportion. Certainly it will generate more sympathy for the dwarves.
Jackson is working himself towards a strict divergence of plotlines, and it will be interesting to see how he handles this in later films. Gandalf eventually leaves the company of Thorin to combat the Necromancer in the south of Mirkwood. There will be too epic battles at least: that at which the Necromancer is put into remission and the Battle of the Five Armies on the slopes of the Lonely Mountain.
For all these altercations, it’s difficult to say whether reading or rereading the book really prepares you for the tale. Parents should be advised that the movie is be more harrowing and darker than the book.
As ever, the scenery constructed by Weta Workshop is stunning, the Lonely Mountain carved in the manner of the tomb of Ramses II.
In sum, this is an enjoyable movie that exceeded my somewhat lukewarm expectations and high anticipation.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Dir. Peter Jackson. Warner Bros, New Line, MGM, WingNut, 3Foot7. 2012.
This review is not endorsed by Warner Bros. Pictures, New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), WingNut Films, 3Foot7, Peter Jackson, anyone in the cast, or anyone involved in making this film. It is an independent, honest review by a viewer.