Of all the movies I wanted to see most in theaters this year, none required as long a wait as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey did. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I had to sit quietly and wait until its third whole weekend of American release before all schedules properly aligned. Those of you who wait to catch movies on DVD or via basic-cable hatchet job may roll your eyes at my impatience if you must, but I like keeping current on my movies, especially those that have been pinned on my mental calendar for months.
To place my anticipation in perspective: I was required to read The Hobbit in seventh-grade English class. Our teacher was such a fan, we received extra credit if we completed our assignments in green ink. I also have the Mind’s Eye six-cassette audio adaptation and the Chuck Dixon/David Wenzel graphic-novel adaptation. I read The Fellowship of the Ring for a ninth-grade book report, but didn’t read the other two until after the movie trilogy had commenced twenty-five years later. I abandoned the Return of the King appendices after five pages, and once owned a copy of The Book of Lost Tales, Volume 1 that I don’t recall ever opening.
Regardless, I’ve been pacing back and forth, waiting for the chance to see Martin Freeman win as Bilbo. Freeman met all my expectations with the proper combination of exasperation, humility, whimsy, and plucky determination. For that alone, I received my money’s worth and then some.
The rest of the movie varied. Other thoughts randomly bullet-pointed, since I’m not a professional movie critic beholden to strict outline form or a segue quota:
* Yes, I understand the complaints about how Jackson & Co. are elaborating on a three-hundred page novel with several thousand pages’ worth of obscure appendices. So far I haven’t found the framing devices, flashbacks, or new Middle-Earth trivia off-putting. I’ll concede Act One moves at the speed of turtle because of infodumps upon infodumps, but it accelerated as it moved along. I’m usually the first in our family to squirm during history lessons, but I found myself keeping careful tabs on place names and order of events. That alone is a step above my general reaction to the later LOTR films.
* The meeting of Elrond, Galadriel, and Saruman may be a grand LOTR reunion of sorts, but to me that scene was more lethargic than most of Act One. Everyone speaks in sullen tones, doesn’t bother evincing a personality since they’re counting on our pre-sold recognition, and rehashes plot threads I already understood while any viewers running behind caught up. The only tangible takeaways from this scene were nostalgic cameos and important weapon names.
* Now that we know Andy Serkis still has that ol’ Gollum magic in him (more subtle and brilliant than ever in transitioning rapidly from ignorant to malevolent and back again), can we look forward to contrived excuses for him to reappear in Parts 2 and 3, or is this really the very last new bits of Gollum the world will ever see? That’s a sad thought to consider.
* When the short sword we’ll come to know as Sting is bequeathed unto Bilbo, he protests that he’s not a swordfighter. By the film’s end, he’s held his own against more than one foe and incredibly not turned into Hobbit-kebab. Am I alone in finding this curious? Is he the fastest learner in the Shire, or doe he now possess a secret military past?
* Every time Azog the Pale Orc commanded a scene, I got the impression he had just entered through a portal from a nearby video game or CCG. I kept wondering to myself if he had formidable stats. I think this means I had trouble accepting him as a movie character.
* I expected Gandalf to appear paradoxically older-looking, but not by that much. Perhaps we should all agree to pretend he ages backward like Merlin.
* If all thirteen dwarves were in a police lineup, I bet I could name more of them than the rest of my family could. Thorin Oakenshield is the heroic leader dwarf; Bombur is the fattest dwarf; Balin is the white-haired dwarf who hogs the most expository dialogue; Fili is the youngest dwarf, which everyone wouldn’t stop mentioning; and his brother Kili is the one who looks sort of like guitarist Dave Navarro, but not quite as much as the other dwarf with the longer black mustache who seriously looks like a Dave Navarro clone by way of Lapland. By the end of Movie #2 I hope to recognize more than half of them on sight.
* As the Elven King Thranduil the Lily-Livered, Ned the Piemaker from Pushing Daisies was slightly more recognizable here than he was as the legal gadfly in Lincoln.
* Radagast is scary. It’s nice that he cares about his hedgehog friends, but…um. Yeesh.
* The end credits revealed the three-second nebulous appearance of the Necromancer was played by the Benedict Cumberbatch. Somehow I missed the news announcements that he was involved with this series at all. That’s telling evidence of how spoiler-free I stayed for this movie. (I’m guessing we’ll find out by Movie #3 that the so-called “Necromancer” is actually Darth Sidious. Just a hunch.)
* No, there was no scene after the end credits of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. However, in much the same way that the LOTR extended-edition DVDs added a lengthy list naming every single member of the LOTR Fan Club, I’m sure the Hobbit extended editions will insert a three-hour scroll naming everyone in history who’s ever bought a copy of the book.
In lieu of an actual after-credits scene, when our theater’s digital file ended, we few hardy loiterers were treated to a brief glimpse of “Active Recovery Desktop” PC wallpaper, complete with blue triangle and exclamation point. That’s a sight guaranteed to dispel a little movie magic.